Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

July 8, 2009

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Ted Shawn Theatre

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Becket, MA

July 8–12, 2009

Reviewed by Tresca Weinstein

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s
Orbo Novo. Photo by Karli Cadel, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.


What does an electrical impulse look like? Or a synapse, as it forms a path through brain tissue? How would emotion and sensation appear if they were translated into movement?

Orbo Novo
(New World), choreographed for Cedar Lake by the Belgian-born Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, maps the intricate activities of the brain on the bodies of 18 extraordinary dancers. Inspired by Jill Bolte Taylor’s memoir, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, about her rare left-brain stroke, and also by time spent in two vastly different cultures (China and New York City), Cherkaoui has created a world divided into opposing hemispheres and styles of movement. That division is represented in concrete terms by four 12-foot-high metal lattices on wheels, which the dancers rearrange like puzzle pieces. The environments they create run the gamut from claustrophobic cages with dancers locked inside, to playgrounds on which they climb and balance.

The choreography directly reflects this divergence. A sense of ease and expansiveness characterizes a series of stunning, acrobatic ensemble sections, marked by gliding turns, curving arms, gentle leaps, and pirouettes that seem to embody Taylor’s ecstatic experience of pure right-brain consciousness, devoid of the left brain’s constant analysis and judgment. (Excerpts from her book, spoken and mimed by the dancers early in the piece, illuminate much of what follows.) Here the dancers move together effortlessly, often in unison and always in harmony. Interspersed between these fluid sequences are solos, pas de deux, and pas de trois that communicate a more troubled, constrained—sometimes even partially paralyzed—state of mind (and body). In these “left-brain” sections, the dancers’ limbs and sternums appear to be attached to jerking strings, as if they were marionettes; they fall flat and struggle to rise, wriggling and convulsing as if trying to escape their own skin. The original score by Polish composer Szymon Brzóska, performed live by the Mosaic String Quartet, hews closely to these changes in tone, encompassing both mournfulness and soaring joy.

The most intriguing sections are those that fall into neither category but encompass elements of both, perhaps spanning hemispheres (or cultures). In one poignant duet, Golan Yosef and Nickemil Concepcion turn, fall and lift each other, their heads always touching; they are joined by Soojin Choi, who seems to serve as a conductor, the energy between them passing through her body. In another strange, sensual section, the men strip down to white briefs and begin to slowly manipulate the women, moving them to and fro, climbing over and around them—like forces, perhaps from within, that the women cannot resist or understand.

Ultimately, we are left with an achingly beautiful impression of the elegance and freedom that bodies—and brain cells—can produce when in perfect alignment with one another. Yet Cherkaoui’s final image is of strife. Dancer Jason Kittelberger dangles from a screen, stuck in an open grid, suspended halfway between one world and the next.