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Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson  |  January 22, 2014

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is Money Worth Watching @DANCECleveland

What's unusual about this contemporary ballet company, the reason you should go out of your way to see them, is DEEP, DEEP pockets full of (evil?) Wal-Mart money.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was founded by billionaire Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie. Her money/generous support has allowed this company to hire not only excellent dancers, but excellent contemporary choreographers from Europe. For Cleveland audiences, ourselves included, contemporary choreography from Europe is a rare sight, like a glimpse of the dark side of the moon.

And surprise! These contemporary European choreographers are not only cool, hip, and au courant. They are also entertaining and accessible as you'll see for yourself with links we provide to YouTube clips. Video is not live performance but we're going to see Cedar Lake live with high hopes for a good show.

Cedar Lake's two performances in Cleveland will feature three dances from its eclectic repertoire.

"Indigo Rose" is a software package, a purple tomato exceptionally high in anthocyanins, and a dance originally choreographed by Jiri Kylian for Nederlands Dans Theater in 1998 and first performed by Cedar Lake in 2013.

Cleveland dance audiences have seen some of Kylian's choreography over the years, but we expect the Cedar Lake dancers to put a particularly clean balletic finish on many of Kylian's movements, showing feet fully pointed and the knees stretched straight. See video of Cedar Lake dancers performing Indigo Rose here and here. Do you like the undulant, white backdrop as much as we do?

Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, was created for Cedar Lake by Crystal Pite, a Canadian citizen who danced for many years with Ballett Frankfurt under the direction of American-born William Forsythe, sometimes known as the Antichrist of ballet. Pite and Forsythe were 2 of the many, many North American dancers and choreographers who elected to work in Europe, an article in itself.

If there's anyone who understands and successfully applies Forsythe's ideas about dance, it's Pite. She figured prominently in Forsythe's CD-ROM, Improvisation Technologies, and is considered an important exponent of his theories of choreography. But perhaps the best advice for watching Forsythe or Pite is Anna Kisselgoff's, "Forget the theories and watch the movement."

Again, check out the video here and here to see why we say that Ten Duets is an eye-full of fast, fluid contact partnering. In the video, we see the Cedar Lake dancers give every line that balletic finish. Join us in putting on night-vision-goggles-just-in-case while watching Ten Duets in the Ohio Theater; Forsythe is infamous for messing around with lighting and Pite has followed in her mentor's footsteps here, surrounding her dancers with lighting instruments that go off and on in no discernible pattern.

In Horizons by Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis we see less ballet finish but plenty of contemporary drive. See video of Horizons here. We're impressed by the speed with which the dancers can coordinate arm circles in one plane with full body turns in another. This is exciting, skillful dancing, not flailing.

When we first heard about Cedar Lake, the little dance company with deep pockets, we flashed back to the train wreck known as Harkness Ballet which was just winding down when Vic arrived in NYC in 1974. "Money can buy anything," Rebecca Harkness had famously said, but all the big name dancers and choreographers she hired did not buy her a dance company worth watching and Harkness Ballet folded in ignominy despite tens of millions of her dollars down the tubes.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet provides a happier narrative, evidence that money well spent can produce dance well worth watching. We at CoolCleveland.com believe in supporting local enterprises, but we also believe in billionaires giving back with enterprises like Cedar Lake. Catherine de Medici, Philip Morris, the Ford Foundation, the Soviet Union; we might not like how they got their money or what else they do with it but sometimes, just sometimes, they finance some good or even great art.

Audiences are cautioned that there will be partial nudity in the Saturday evening performance, but not in the matinee.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs at the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare at 8pm Sat 1/25 and 3pm Sun 1/26/2014 presented by DANCECleveland. Tickets, starting at $20, can be purchased at the PlayhouseSquare ticket office, 216-241-6000 or online at http://dancecleveland.org.

Catch free pre-performance talks in the theatre 45 minutes before each of the performances. A post-performance moderated Q&A session with members of the company will immediately follow each show.

Several master classes will be conducted by company members prior to the performances. A teen contemporary ballet master class for ages 12-18 will be held on Fri 1/24 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the green rehearsal hall at PlayhouseSquare. It will be conducted by Cedar Lake dancer Billy Bell, known to many for his appearances on television's So You Think You Can Dance program.

On Sat 1/25 from 11am 12:30pm a contemporary pre-professional / professional level master class will be held at Cleveland State University's studios in the Middough Building on the fifth floor. Participants are required to register in advance by emailing sarah@dancecleveland.org or by calling 216-991-9000.
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