Choregus Productions' 2010-2011 dance season has been a whirlwind, from the dark passion of Koresh Dance Company, to the peppy verve of the Trey McIntyre Project, to the ecstatic athleticism of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
But the season's final performance, by New York City's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, launched the audience into worlds of human experience they might not have even known dance was able to reach.
Choregus founder Ken Tracy saw Cedar Lake three times in New York, and knew right away he had to bring them to Tulsa.
"I thought they were a fantastic company with great dancers and a wide repertoire of works by the world's foremost choreographers," he said, "and they had never been to Oklahoma before. I thought this would be an opportunity for Tulsans to see one of the leading contemporary dance companies."
Founded in 2003, Cedar Lake's commitment to innovation even landed it a featured role in the creativity-affirming movie The Adjustment Bureau, which starred Matt Damon. For this performance, the company brought 14 dancers and three ballets, "Excerpts from Decadance 2007" by the Israeli Ohad Naharian, "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue" by Canada's Crystal Pite, and "Frame of View" by Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman, all three challenging and engaging, the second ever-so-quietly mind-blowing.
"Decadance" opened the evening with a stage full of men and women whose upper bodies were coated in a thick white fabric, like fondant on a cake, like mannequins. They stood still for so long that when they finally moved -- just a fraction of an inch -- it was like a hallucination. Suddenly one dancer after another exploded in wild bucking and kicking to thundering tabla drums. With their white torsos eerily glowing as their dark legs disappeared, they retreated back into the shadows with from-the-gut shouts.
A duet to Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater" brought a man shaking his clasped hands toward a woman as if begging, or sprinkling her with magic dust. Her body contracted from his touch, then bore his full weight as he pushed his head (with a force you could hear) into her chest. A longer section for five men explored ideas of tribe: What does it take to be part of one? What does it take to be shut out? Four men smeared mud on their faces and chests; a fifth hesitated, then joined them, only to fall out of the group again after a series of impossibly high arching leaps. Another man would then resist the group, which would swarm around to bring him back. Moments of narrative surfaced and then disappeared into the torrent of movement, creating a seamless meditation on inclusion, exclusion, and masculine identity. The men wore full white pants that amplified their tornadic force in Naharian's powerful choreography.
"Decadance" ended in ludicrous high style, with dancer Ebony Williams (who appeared in the music video for Beyonce's "Single Ladies") on red stilts, with feathers at her neck, lip-syncing with maximum expression to a song called the "Gopher Mambo." Decadent dance, indeed.
Veldman's "frame of view" played with similar themes -- who's in and who's out? -- in a more accessible way. Nine dancers in slightly outlandish garb (a trench coat, a checked suit) poked through, over, and around three yellow doors bolted into the floor. Sometimes center stage was "indoors," sometimes "outdoors."
Many characters came and went: a restless schoolgirl pushing her desk and chair around, a prostitute enduring catcalls, a monster in the closet.
"Frame of View" got more entertaining as it went, culminating in a hilarious slow-motion fight and a gaggle of girls screaming for their want-ad dreamboat as he creaked under the weight of three of them at once. Veldman's loose choreography found emotional focus through props, particularly in a duet in which a man's stretchy yellow shirt symbolized the ways he and his companion were "bound." He left her wearing it, and walked away through an open door.
Crystal Pite, currently based in Germany, is perhaps the most important young contemporary dance choreographer working today. Influenced by Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe (whose work has recently been presented by Tulsa Ballet), she incorporates their explorations of torque and velocity into her own rigorously original dance language. Pite's work is quiet, delicate, risky, and as intense as a glimpse of someone you love through a keyhole. "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue" delivered what its title promised: ten brief encounters in a world of shadows, where getting lost, and found, is the greatest story never told.
Pite avoided every cliché of pas de deux and took these couples to other places altogether. A man and a woman stood in a dark corner, bent over with curved arms as if waltzing with invisible partners, and did a focused five-count two-step to the bell-like sounds of Cliff Martinez's haunting score for the 2002 film Solaris. A woman stood with her arm outstretched behind her; a man ran toward her as if against a terrible wind, his hand reaching for hers.
When he finally caught up, he flung himself away again, until on the third try he collapsed into rest as her gaze and her grip calmed him. Turns turned into thrilling excursions, starting in one spot and ending yards away, wherever their momentum took them; each movement was at once natural and unexpected. Bare bulbs shone from a black wall at the back of the stage, creating gorgeous shadows and silhouettes, and from freestanding, movable fixtures that homed in on the dancers like searchlights. People around me found tears coming to their eyes that they couldn't explain. The "Ten Duets" weren't sad, and the rescues weren't happy. They were all, very simply, intimate and true.
Choregus' 2011-2012 season might outdo even this spectacular one, bringing to Oklahoma for the first time four of the best dance companies in the world: Alonzo King LINES, Keigwin + Company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and the Batsheva Dance Company. Tracy noted that the legendary Morris was finally persuaded to come by the presence of Cain's Ballroom, which he's always wanted to visit. Tulsa can be proud of what it has to offer visitors. It should be equally proud of what organizations like Choregus offer us.
Share this article: