Caravaggio, an artist of the 1600s, was famous for his use of dramatic lighting in his paintings, among other things. He had a signature skill of darkening the shadows around his subjects thereby transfixing them in a blinding shaft of light, accenting his reality. I found Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet to employ a similar artistic effect in their program Friday night. The lighting was not dramatic in its use of bold, ever-shifting colors; no, theirs was a subtle statement of midnight shadows contrasting illuminated dancers. The result was abstract realism — in socks.
The whole first piece, Sunday, Again, choreographed by Jo Strømgren was danced in socks, which, I can tell you, is neither easier nor safer than dancing barefoot. Strømgren strove to say something about the domesticity of Sundays (the opening couple was wearing briefs and PJ tops to compliment their socks) and the ensuing unrest that leisurely Sundays create between two people who suddenly have an entire day to spend together in their underwear. The couple begins kicking and screaming — sounds of deliberately stomped feet and fists enhance our understanding of an argument. The male and female claw one another for some footing. The man lifts the female locking their necks, without the use of his arms, her legs split the air as she swoops around him like a tilt-a-whirl. (This animalistic neck-locking — chins hooked snugly around one another’s necks — is a recurring, highly original and spectacular choreographed element throughout.) She scrambles back up and around his body and teases him, unwaveringly squatting on his shoulders facing him. Their non-stop movements match the frenzied, violin notes of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The scene is melded into another as a forward-marching line of dancers interrupt the action and simultaneously become one with a new scene, realized by the shifting of the darkness and light. The inferred meaning of each phrase is made less confusing and more cohesive with this lighting technique. An abstract reality is enhanced by a repetitive line of dancers crossing the stage at the end and beginning of each scene, replacing the traditional curtain. This human curtain picks up the last scenes’ dancers in its sweeping movement and leaves behind the next dancers in its wake.
Everything about this company is contemporary and convoluted. Scenes don’t necessarily need to make sense, but they usually do. You don’t care when dancers aren’t in synch, but are awed in the second act, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, when a male/female pair effortlessly match each other’s wriggling movements to music (with streaks of techie-sounding beats) by Cliff Martinez. Throughout, bodies are thrown to the floor with abandon and pop back up as quickly as a dipped toe jumps out of ice-cold water. A duet with two females shows one as a puppeteer, expertly raising and directing her puppet’s limp arm with an invisible string. A female acts out an expressive (and disturbing) monologue about provoking her Jewish mother’s beatings by dancing naked. In the last act, excerpts from Decadence, a recurring Jewish theme of bat mitzvahs, religion, and vocalized song/prayer rediscover the traditional and make it new and exciting. Throughout prayer, dancers strip.
Everything is titillating. Nothing is boring. Nobody is without restless and willful talent. Cedar Lake doesn’t value uniformity; it’s like witnessing a troupe of urban artists at a creative, underground dance show. They are a strain of non-traditional ballerinas — fearlessly talented with a radically different vision.