Above: Acacia Schachte and Joseph Kudra, both members of Cedar Lake Conteporary Ballet, in Lindsay Nelko's AWAKENING; photo by Matt Murphy.
Thursday August 7th, 2014 - Somehow news of this performance of Lindsay Nelko's AWAKENING eluded me until it was almost too late. The original announcement seems to have gotten lost among the dozens of invitations I receive every week; it's my own fault. It was actually catching a glimpse of Matt Murphy's sensational publicity shots for the show that motivated me to seek out details and arrange to attend the second of three performances of the work at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.
AWAKENING came to be as a result of Lindsay Nelko being named 2nd runner-up in the 2013 Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Gathering a troupe of two dozen dancers, including some of New York's finest, Linsday went for broke with a 90-minute production that showed her to be one of the few choreographers in my experience to successfully mesh the diverse elements of ballet, contemporary, and jazz with a bit of ballroom and even a dash of B-boy spice. Kathy Kauffman gets five stars for her excellent lighting designs.
Danced in eighteen scenes, each titled by an emotion or state of being, AWAKENING flows with captivating theatrical intensity while remaining free of gimmickry or pandering. The dancing never stops, and what demanding dancing it is! Hats off to everyone on that stage who gave unstinting energy and commitment to assure the performance's great success.
As always with a longish work (approximately 90 minutes) there were times that I felt things could have been compressed slightly, but these moments were very few and far between.
The impressive and stylish playbill included photos and bios of all the dancers as well as some of Matt Murphy's powerful studio images, but I could not find any listing of the musical compositions used, so I am unsure if this was a commissioned score or a collage put together for the production. Additional excitement was generated by a slip in the playbill announcing that Alex Wong, one of the planet's premiere movers, would be interpolating a solo midway thru the evening.
The visually striking staging made use of billowy swathes of fabric at various points, and while the costuming changed from one movement to the next, the boys were invariably clad in briefs which showed off their musculature at work in the demanding choreography. Passion and sensuality are the hallmarks of AWAKENING.
The evening opened with a spoken prologue: actress Sara Thompson appeared as a personification of the choreographer, and she reappeared frequently as the evening moved forward. I'm not sure that this was an enhancement or a distraction; I felt that a voice-over narration might have been a better idea, allowing the dances to flow seamlessly forward.
The dancing begins, appropriately, with Awakening. Three lovely Eves (Daniela Filippone, Lauren Perry, and Amy Ruggiero) are slumbering on gauzy beds, to be awakened by three sexy Adams (Daniel Baker, Jeffrey Sousa, and Nicholas Sipes). The girls are on pointe: they seem like Wilis as they waft their gossamer veils about.
In a dramatic volte face, Mark Caserta manifests himself as a frightening spectre in Fear, set to the sound of ominous vocals. Caserta bedevils the vulnerable Addison Ector, and he is joined by three fellow demons: Kelly Marsh IV, Kris Nobles, and Terk Waters. These threatening spirits wear fantastical iridescent capes and hoods, and they are really eerie. Mr. Caserta's handsome form and glint-in-the-eye visage will be a continuing force throughout the evening.
A visual coup de theatre follows as the back curtains part revealing a mirrored wall. Ten women step into a rectangle of light and dance in stylied patterns with their reflections. This is Dysmorphia. In addition to Mlles. Filippone, Perry and Ruggiero, we now meet Maira Barriga, Taeler Cyrus, Ashley Fitzgerald, Sara Hoenes, Allison Ulrich and those two divine dancers from Cedar Lake: Ida Saki and Acacia Schachte.
The men then take over for Courage. This is a stylized contemporary-balletic passage, the guys bare-chested in dark trousers. Barton Cowperthwaite and Shane Ohmer join Mssers. Baker, Ector, Marsh, Nobles, Sipes and Sousa in this masculine rite.
Above: Mark Caserta and Casey McIntyre, both members of Complexions Contemporary Ballet; photo by Matt Murphy
Casey McIntyre appears on pointe for a solo in In Harm's Way, danced to a mysterious French text. Mark Caserta joins her and their duet becomes increasingly sexual.
Four girls - Lauren Perry, Ida Saki, Acacia Schachte, and Allison Ulrich - appear for Anxiety, each dancing her her own pool of light. The men invade the scene, wielding plexiglass shields with which they menace, entrap, and transport the hapless girls who seek to escape. Anxiety proceeds to a heavy musical beat.
Alex Wong, shirtless in jeans, reveals - in this solo Mirage - why he is one of the most exciting dancers of our time: deploying his masterful extension, with risky splits and powerful floor work as well as airborne vrtuosity, Alex displays his compelling trademark synthesis of athleticism and grace in a spellbinding performance.
A potent male duet, Despair was danced with vulnerable dramatic nuance and expressive physicality by Kris Nobles and Mark Caserta.
Ida Saki emits a blood-curdling shriek at the start of Scream; she is joined by Acacia Schachte and Joseph Kudra, along with Cedar Lake alumnus Jason Kittelberger. This section was especially rewarding for me, since I am a great admirer of all four of these dancers.
Addison Ector appears as a winged demi-god in Flight; he dances on pointe in this demanding and visually impressive solo.
Five women in black frocks open Lifeline : Mlles. Filippone, McIntyre, Perry and Ruggiero are joined by Youngsil Kim in this on-pointe dance. Colorful streamers criss-cross the stage as the men appear - wearing 'wife-beater' t-shirts: but there's no domestic violence, just Spring-like duets with women now dressed in sunny yellow.
Terk Waters gave a thrilling performance in Consumed, manipulating a voluminous skirt of mauve fabric from which his dazzling extension sometimes emerged. He struggles with this weighty shroud, refusing to be subjugated by it. Gorgeous, expansive movement.
With five dancers attached to him by umbilical cords, Jason Kittlelberger is a savagely celebratory control freak in Control. In this wild and punky interlude, the dancers struggle to be free from Jason's tyranny; in the end they succeed.
A lyrical trio for three women in maroon gowns follows: this is Broken. Youngsil Kim, Casey McIntyre, and Kelly Sneddon bring quiet intensity to the gestural language: this piece may have been inspired by Martha Graham's works for female ensemble.
Into The Light, a big ensemble segment, shows the women in long skirts and the men in black briefs rising up to embrace the sunshine. This merges directly into Healing as Kelly Sneddon, angelic in white, first appears walking slowly among the dancers. She performs a solo on poinet and is then partnered by Terk Waters.
Youngsil Kim and Barton Cowperthwaite then dance a luminous, white-clad pas de deux with an almost Grecian look to it: Ascension is tender and - eventually - ecstatic.
The dancework now reaches its end: the choreographer has shown us her journey, filled with hopes and fears. In the final passage, Resolution, Maira Barriga - in a virginal white gown and quietly demonstrating the extraordinary suppleness of her form - depicts a woman who has conquered her demons and now moves forward to embrace the future.
The audience experienced AWAKENING in a highly receptive state of anticipation, hailing the dancers and the choreographer at the end with a spontaneous standing ovation.