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Review: Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance Company

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The triple bill is a balancing act more complex than any Masterchef's three course meal: programming doesn't get tougher than this. If such a competition existed, artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer earned a place among the champions with Cedar Lake's triple bill at Sadler's Wells last night. Opening with an attention-grabbing headbanger, in Hofesh Shechter's typically subversive Violet Kid; acutely observed kinetic humour from Alexander Ekman's Tuplet sandwiched in the middle;the company left us with a poignant taste in our mouths with Crystal Pite's heart-wrenchingly bleak Grace Engine.

Shechter's painfully personal brand of poltically-driven dance is never an easy watch, but Violet Kid is undeniably compelling. Beginning with Shechter's philosophical musings on performance, he injects just enough humourous self-deprecation to water down the inevitable pretention that accompanies this sort of naval gazing. Once the dancers begin, the magic happens- lurching and twitching around the stage in an amoebic bunch, they splinter off into angry factions, individuals thrash out of the regimented group like little party poppers of torment, and majorities bully and intimidate with testosterone-fuelled movement. It is bizarre to watch- with risk of there being a zero cross over between Schechter fans and Harry Potter readers, the dancers look exactly like insects under the controlling torture of the cruciactus curse. And if you know your Potter, you know that's not pleasant. For a difficult watch, Violet Kid was eeked out a little too much- some heavy editing would have kept this explosive piece punchy.

Ekman's 18-minute offering, on the other hand, left me itching for more as the curtain came down. Riffing off a soundtrack comprised of the dancer's own voices, the odd sounds and songs will be instantly recognisable to any dancer who has ever kept an internal soundtrack to their every movement in rehearsal. Luckily, dancers or not, the whole theatre was tickled by Ekman's wry observations on the conventions of modern dance. It was like a love letter to music- a medium to which dance owes so much- as black and white images of lindyhoppers, jazz musicians and pianists flashed in the background. Spoken stage directions and choreographic thoughts were delightfully tongue in cheek, and made the whole experience accessible, watchable and thoroughly enjoyable- aspects that are sadly absent from the majority of contemporary dance. At 27, Ekman is an exciting young talent to keep an eye on.

Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite rounded off the evening with Grace Engine, which felt like a return to more classical contemporary dance. Her choreography stretched these incredible dancers to show off their technical abilities- and they truly are incredible, versatile, compelling firecrackers on stage, finding nuances and feeling in every muscle twitch. The stage was lit by a row of urban strip lighting, the dancers donned suits; if Graham Greene could be encapsulated in a dance, Grace Engine would be it. The dancers felt very much like a single entity, with a notion of unity entirely different to Shechter's opening- a pleasant way to round off the programme. However Pite's intentions were never as clear as in Shechter and Ekman's pieces, and Grace Engine ended up feeling like a delicately beautiful blur by comparison- while the others ran, Grace Engine dawdled, and suffered for it. However, despite a few grumbles, it would be tough to argue that an evening like this isn't contemporary dance at its best- varied, challenging, rib-tickling, emotionally introspective and physically giving... it's no wonder this is the company everyone wants to dance for.

★★★★★