Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet

Valerie Madonia and Robert Sher-Machherndl in Tiger Lily
Photo by David Andrews, courtesy Lemon Spongecake


Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet
Dairy Center for the Arts Dance Space, Boulder, CO
December 2–4, 2005
Reviewed by Daniel Gesmer


In Tiger Lily, Robert Sher-Machherndl stepped up his mission to integrate pointe technique with contemporary movement sensibilities and stretch its limits as an instrument for commentary on modern life. It was the Austrian dancer-choreographer’s third original production for his five-woman Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet during 2005.

Like many of Sher-Machherndl’s nine previous creations, Tiger Lily delves into the tensions between hope and despair, longing and withdrawal, connection and alienation. But the 60-minute, single-act ballet is possibly his most nuanced work yet.

Guest artist Jung-Min Lee set the work in motion with postures of angst and anguish. Soon joining her were Jennifer Dale, Nicole Hess, and Tessa Victoria, moving elegantly to Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor while Lee slowly paced to an unheard rhythm—the first of many scenes of disconnection and alienation.

Exploring the contemporary edge within classicism is one of Sher-Machherndl’s trademarks, here underscored by daring musical transitions and costumes (multicolored corsets and black biker shorts by his wife, Jenifer Sher) and musical transitions. During a flowery solo for Lee, the ambient industrial sounds of German electronic musician Pole overwhelmed Bach and transformed the dance, drawing contemporary movement from the classical idiom.

Victoria, indisputably the director’s principal muse, monopolizes the eye. With startling intensity, she dances every step as if it were her last moment. In her central solo to Arvo Pärt’s ethereal chorus “Da Pacem Domine,” Victoria seemed a wounded heart groping for something transcendent and, for the moment, just out of reach: balance, belonging, healing, grace of soul. The image is typical of Sher-Machherndl’s entire opus.

The other highlight was the psychologically incisive duet between Sher-Machherndl and guest artist Valerie Madonia, a former American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet dancer. Set to the dramatic swells and crescendos of Pärt’s “Lamentate,” Sher-Machherndl was initially overcontrolling, his lifts and supports ambiguous, awkward, and possessive. But the two dancers gradually forged a tender harmony.

Also of note was Sher-Machherndl’s own movement style, reminiscent of William Forsythe. He seems to deliberately accentuate his length and angularity, which become striking in combination with his clear center and precise technique. See www.lemonspongecake.com.

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