Stage without walls

By Lori Ortiz

Cedar Lake performs three dances with imaginary parameters

Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti called his new “memory/measure” an abstract dance-play. The same could be said for the other works in Cedar Lake’s 10-day winter season, which opens on January 8th,  2009. Nederlander Didy Veldman’s “frame of view” premieres. Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s acclaimed 2008 “Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue” returns. For these three choreographers, dancing on a stage is not enough. The performing area is a stage-within-a-stage.

“Ten Duets…” shows a serious side of Pite, but she approaches it with characteristic wit. A dress rehearsal was a rewarding opportunity to see a great work that the company has grown into. The dance itself matures. To otherworldly music from the film “Solaris,” five pair in a ring of lights, in powerful duets. Watch Soojin Coi and Nickemil Concepcion in a gravity-defying lift. The final denouement unexpectedly and finally evokes a theater of war.

The choreographers are essentially exploring emotions within an implied architecture. In Veldman’s “frame of view,” doorways, literally and metaphorically, are passages. Her dancers focus on emotion and behavior with frightful, or ludicrous facial expressions and big, floppy, athletic steps. Do we move differently in private than in public? “You travel,” she says, “It can start off being funny and then it can become something really sad… I allow for that space to happen.” Veldman creates a dreamy, Second Life-like space with extremes of tempo, illusionistic lighting, and an unlikely string of musical selections— Dean Martin, Jacques Offenbach, the Kronos Quartet, and Nina Simone.

Veldman’s “frame of view” is her first creation for an American company. She agreed that it took off from its original inspiration: doors through which we show or hide emotions. “The fact that these dancers are living here, and I am working here [in America]— there is of course that,” she admitted during rehearsal. The first section is noir. The silliness releases us from the weight of the Pite and the Veggetti. Then, lighthearted show-dance and caricature to “The Door is Still Open (To My Heart)” with exaggerated swinging walks, reeling turns, interpolating groups, and an avalanche of Rockettes. The best clowning touches our inner sanctum.

In “memory/measure,” first on the program, Veggetti balances spoken text, movement, and music. About the score by frequent collaborator Paolo Aralla, Veggetti says “I was as much the composer as he was the choreographer, for the whole thing to hold together.” They worked on it for a year, beginning with Ingmar Bergman’s “After the Rehearsal,” and taking that to an ambiguous, dreamy, set of stage directions that the dancers do not follow to the letter. They act independently. It is as if we are hearing their inner thoughts, but they are actually part of an intricate choreography.

Veggetti used the term meta-theatrical for the narrative he creates. It is at once airy, decompressed storytelling and a study of movement in space. For “memory/measure,” he cites Virginia Woolf’s “Waves,” and late Beckett. The performers are mute against an offstage voice. In particular, Beckett’s “Quad” is a dance-play for four people in a square.

“memory/measure” —the title comes from an important 14th century dance treatise by Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro— is for four dancers who move along straight line trajectories. A dancer walks around the perimeter of a white square resembling a Greek frieze figure and half disappears into the outer blackness. These striking images, and Veggetti’s style, might be called meta-classical. In another duet partners turn with clasped hands as if dancing together in the living room. In his way of wedding the pedestrian and the classical, Veggetti takes Jerome Robbins’s ballet choreography a step further.

Each choreographer brings a very specific language, similarly abstract and narrative, but coming from three very different places. Shall we say, Canada, Italy, and the Netherlands. Two dancers debut this winter. Soojin Choi performs in all three program offerings. Spanish Marina Mascarell hails from Nederlands Dans Theatre II. The Cedar Lake dancers are amazingly capable of transporting us into each choreographic vision.