Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, the billionaire-funded company, continues to prove its genuine artistic mettle with a two-week season at the Joyce Theater.
The troupe can afford to support its dancers with salaries and amenities concomitant with their ample talents and also to engage adventurous, accomplished choreographers who create a distinguished repertory.
Artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer has spent the past several years building a repertory worthy of his dancers’ skills by forming long-term relationships worldwide with top-flight dancemakers like Israel’s Batsheva Company director/ choreographer Ohad Naharin and the three presented in the current program. The first week of their run features New York premieres by two choreographers of the moment and one master dancemaker.
Batsheva alumnus Hofesh Shechter has been making waves in the UK, where he’s based, and internationally. His “Violet Kid,” which premiered in Bonn, Germany, in 2011, and for which he also composed the music and co-designed costumes and lighting, opens program A. The 35-minute dance depicts a band of toughs who are at once symbiotic and alienated souls.
At the start, the 14 confront us in a grim lineup across the front of the stage, wearing casual street clothes in assorted tones and textures (by Shechter and Jonghyun Georgia Lee). A voice-over muses about the need to simplify, and a string trio (cello, viola, and double bass) murmurs on a platform above and behind the dancing.
Shechter and Jim French’s mist-laden light design locates this community in indeterminate space. Small groups emerge from the murkiness, replacing others who slink into it. They move like a swarm of insects that have appropriated vernacular street dance. Slouching, crouching motifs accumulate and recur into a powerful, kinetic jargon that speaks a fascinating language of its own. Recorded percussion reinforces the melodic drone of the strings.
In the New York premiere of Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine,” another kind of society populates a world of pungent encounters –– not the violent limb-tearing kind, so ubiquitous in contemporary ballet, but a more grounded, cooperative sort, in which people acknowledge and respect each other’s humanity. Owen Belton’s suspenseful score combines amplified real sounds and throbbing pulses.
French’s smart lighting delineates territory in the blackness with lattice-patterned corridors of light, and an overhead fluorescent fixture that snaps sections on and off to punctuate the restless pacing, writhing, sinuous motion of 15 dancers in men’s business suits (by Nancy Haeyung Bae). There’s also a bank of spotlights on the floor, aimed into our eyes, that periodically gives us an additional emotional jolt. Pite and French collaborate closely on the lighting, which continually articulates formations and physical textures with a sense of mystery.
The dance opens with dynamo Jon Bond “foot-syncing” to ominous, recorded footsteps, like a detective in a spy thriller. Out of a subsequent maelstrom of surging bodies emerge a men’s quartet and a women’s dance; warring opponents, lined up on opposite sides; chain reactions of dancers, crammed into a tight line; and two duets. One pairs man and woman (lanky Joaquim De Santana and lithe Ana-Maria Lucaciu) as momentary refugees from the roiling community; and the other, a poignant, powerful episode for women (Acacia Schachte and Soojin Choi), closes the ballet in a resolution that invites contemplation.
Between these two kinetic blockbusters nestles the quietly exquisite 1995 duet “Annonciation” by France-based choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. In it, the Virgin (Harumi Teramaya) receives momentous visitation by Angel Gabriel (Schachte) on a blood-red patch of ground, bordered by an L-shaped curb (set design by Preljocaj) and lighted dramatically by Jacques Chatelet.
Preljocaj has a gift for inventing archetypal movement, as in the uncannily synchronized unison duet passage for the two, which forms the miraculous heart of the ballet. The sound provocatively alternates Vivaldi’s “Magnificat” and “Crystal Music” by Stephanie Roy, which blends static and street noises.
CEDAR LAKE CONTEMPORARY BALLET | Joyce Theater | 175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St. | Through May 27 | Tue.-Wed. & May 20 at 7:30 p.m..; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m. | $10 (by phone only)-$69 | joyce.org or 212-242-0800