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Richard Penberthy
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Cedar Lake
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3X3 at Cedar Lake

by Richard Penberthy
January 18, 2007
Cedar Lake
547 West 26th Street (between 10th & 11th Avenues)
New York, NY 10001
(212) 486-722
Vastav, Rastay, and Symptoms of Development
Vastav, performed to a Croation score by Sefano Zazzera, is an insistent dance, marvelous to watch. Choreographer Benoit-Swan Pouffer presents the audience with his take on the custom of arranged marriage, observed on a childhood visit to Algeria. Vastav is his commentary on the constraints of a predetermined life and on disappointment. The dance is layered and complex, precise and rewarding.

The men enter stage left, one, two, then recede. A few more enter and sweep forward, then more come, inevitable as the tide. They are bare chested, wearing charcoal trousers with a girdle-high waist that calls to mind dervishes' skirts, and whirl they do, excitingly, expertly. They are exuberant as adolescent athletes showing off – then crouched, a watchful force taking the stage – then bold again. From stage right, at the same time, the women arrive, cautious and guarded wearing long skirts split to the waist of heavy Indian-red fabric. Their white blouses are at once the same and yet varied, each slightly different – embroidered or pleated. This costume detail speaks eloquently and intentionally of gender – the difference between these two armies. They too take the stage, and the men and women dance through each other's ranks.

While the men muscle their way through the dance, the women, dancing with equal energy, observe them, as if choosing. Eventually couples form, and in the light of a marriage contract, inevitably two couples have chosen unwisely, for Jessica Lee Keller is the destined bride of Jason Kittelberger, while he finds himself entangled with Jessica Coleman Scott. Likewise Nickemil Concepcion and Jessica Lee Keller have paired. The duet between Mr. Kittelberger and Ms. Coleman Scott is astounding, and when they are joined in parallel duets by the other couple, the strength of their dancing and of the novelty of this choreography is riveting.

Both men are powerful, and the women are fearless in these parallel duets. In one sequence the women are bent far over, the men beside them, mourning their fate. The women suddenly explode upright, high into the air over the men's heads. It happens so quickly that it appears as if the men have with brute force grabbed them around the torso, pulled them aloft and tipped them back to face the ceiling. But in fact the women have in a micro-second stood and arched back, and at the perfect balance-dictated moment, the men placed their hands at the lower back and have pushed them upward into the air. No grabbing occurred and all ribs are intact. The effect is wild, simply wild.

Vastav is brilliant not just because of the appealing theme and its story line, nor just because the performers and performance are exquisite, but also because of the dance itself. It is mature. Nothing is wasted. Nobody merely marks time onstage, each dancer and gesture mean something to the action, to the mood. The wholeness of the piece, detail by detail, is exciting and gratifying.

Rastay means trend, according to program notes, the 'way we tend to behave toward a relationship". In this three-part dance (duet, solo, and trio) choreographer Edgar Zendejas shows us the patterns, the repetitions, the ways we cadge and keep each other's affections. This is another beautifully wrought dance, engaging our curiosity, giving us stunning imagery.

The duet strips bare the structure, the your-turn-to-curtsy-my-turn-to-bow essentials of Jason Kittelberger's and Heather Hamilton's coupledom, the glue of the relationship. She is a magnet to which he returns submissive and head-down again and again. Because their relationship evolves (the solo and the trio do not) there are variations on their habit. Small moments of rage and revenge intrude, the inelegant frisson, but always the pattern emerges. How strong they are, alone and together, impossibly unitary in the demanding lifts and feats of flawless synchronicity! Without that unit-ness of their performance, the poignancy of the theme would be lost, or at least weakened. Stunning stuff!

Roderick George dances the solo, as the blindfolded devotee of "the figure" a non-dancing woman in black who sets him in motion – spinning and leaping along an axis she determines – as she takes her position at the end of that axis and, expressionless, watches him approach. At one point, trying to break out of the pattern, he dashes to her and embraces her waist. She coolly pushes him to another beginning, another sequence along another axis. As the solo ends, she removes his blindfold, pushes his head back so that he is staring at the ceiling, covers his eyes with her hand, and moves him, controls him as they move off into the dark. His dancing is graceful, despairing, frantic, wrenching…all performed blindfolded. His is a heroic performance.

The trio, danced by Jessica Coleman Scott, Christopher Adams, and Jubal Battisti, seems of these dances the most brutal, hurts the heart the most, though it does so without violence or fast-paced dancing or melodrama. Ms. Scott, en pointe, with beautiful port de bras, the very image of a fragile ballerina facing stage rear is simply walked into by the men approaching her from behind. First by Mr. Battisti, who walks into her right arm so that it is clasped to her, right hand on left shoulder, and then by Mr. Adams, so that her other arm folds. The elegant port de bras is gone, yet she dances with them, lightly and beautifully, they in charge, one at a time or together. Each time her arms begin to unclasp, to assume a graceful gesture, the men, one by one, simply approach from the rear, and bump her arms so they again clasp across her body. They cripple her – it is their habit. The idea in the abstract is powerful, but the image – tears in the audience attest: oh, the image will last.

The third dance of the night, "Symptoms of Development," features more assertive lighting, projected imagery and sound. Men and women are in gray briefs and t-shirts, with heavy black strap harnesses. The dance is a commentary on society's movement away from valuing, or even recognizing, human relationships. Some of the images and ideas recall the Borg from a television series – individual motivation subsumed by the will of the group – or the robot interrogators of sci-fi movies. One striking image: a man stands against the back wall, then rapidly walks stage right as his bright ghostlike outline remains and a red thread of light tries to keep up with him. Sound: a man's voice speaks of our bodies moving faster than the souls they are meant to contain and protect, that the soul strives to keep up but the string that joins them becomes more and more stretched. It is quite affecting. In another sequence, a woman in a rock-climber's sling gripped by two men is lifted and jostled and wrenched around the stage, having no control over her own movement. The performance is innovative and thought-provoking.
Roderick George in 'RASTAY', chroeographed by Edgar Zendejas

Roderick George in "RASTAY", chroeographed by Edgar Zendejas

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode


Jason Kittelberger and Jessica Coleman Scott in 'VASTAV' choreographed by Benoit-Swan Pouffer at Cedar Lake.

Jason Kittelberger and Jessica Coleman Scott in "VASTAV" choreographed by Benoit-Swan Pouffer at Cedar Lake.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode

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