Tuesday October 20, 2009 - Opening night of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet's production of ORBO NOVO (New World) at the Joyce. Photo above by Karli Cadel. Watch a sampling of the piece here.
Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's creation found inspiration in Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight in which she describes the stroke she suffered in 1996 and her eight-year recovery period which she devoted to research. The choreographer translates the torment, struggle and transformation the author experienced by alternately trapping and liberating the Cedar Lake dancers on Alexander Dodge's towering, movable grid panels.
The dancers recite portions of Taylor’s writings in the course of ORBO NOVO. While spoken passages in dance works are often gimmicky here the excellent vocal articulation by the dancers (especially Kristen Weiser and Jubal Battisti) and the use of synchronized gestures worked well in performance context.
Julieta Cervantes ORBO NOVO photo above. Composer Szymon Brzoska's score has echoes of Janacek and even Dvorak or Brahms with folk-dance rhythms subtly woven in as an undercurrent. Played by the Mosaic String Quartet and pianist Aaron Wunsch who were seated and dimly lit at the rear of the stage, the music is darkly lyrical with occasional shots of luminosity.
The setting can be a barrier keeping the dancers caged (though they slip in and out) and the panels are moved by the dancers to vary the performing space. At one point the boys strip to their underwear and clamber up and down like monkeys; they seem both powerful and vulnerable in their briefs. Lighting by Jim French keeps the setting (and the dancers) in a soft glow; shadows cast upon the grey walls sometimes feel ominous.
Music, text, setting, costumes, lighting: all gel in a cohesive whole. But what makes ORBO NOVO captivating in the end is the dancing. The Cedar Lake dancers are among the strongest, sexiest and most fearless on the New York dance scene. The power of the dancers' individual personalities gives Cherkaoui's choreography its life blood.
Right from the opening passage these dancers illuminate every moment of this dense, complex work. In silence, Jubal Battisti and Acacia Schachte appear on either side of the high wall. As they reach thru to touch, the music begins. Left alone, Acacia balances on her abdomen on one of the cross-bars and stretches her body taut; she then swings herself up and moves swiftly to the very top of the wall where she weaves in and out thru the openings before returning to the floor for a lyrical solo passage. I can't imagine any other dancer who could have done this passage with Acacia's strength, agility and clarity of expression.
As the work evolves there are tremendous solos from Jason Kittelberger (displaying his savage grace), Ebony Williams (compelling elasticity of motion) and Jon Bond whose energy, athleticism and fluidity of movement set him high on the list of Gotham's most fascinating dancers.
Moments of frenzy and calm alternate: Nickemil Concepcion and Golan Yosef are joined in a pas de trois by Soojin Choi who - clad all in white - seems like an angel of mercy. Manuel Vignoulle, one of the Company's newest dancers, uses his height and his shocking red hair to create a vivid impression in his solo. Golan Yosef and Harumi Terayama's tremulous seizures abate when they connect to one another.
The panels are shifted to form a small cage, the dancers trapped inside. One by one they wriggle thru the grid and vanish; only Jason Kittelberger remains unable to escape as the light slowly fades.
After two unfortunate cellphone interruptions early in the evening the packed house settled down and seemed engrossed by ORBO NOVO. The Cedar Lake dancers and the musicians rightly won waves of applause and cheers as they took their bows. Unfortunately neither the choreographer nor the composer were present to share in the acclaim.