The Duet Between the Right Brain and the Left

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In 2003, when the Walmart heiress Nancy Laurie founded Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it sounded like a whim. Yet, over time, the troupe earned respect by filling a hole in the market, commissioning work by rising European choreographers gaining buzz abroad but little seen here. This is a valuable service, even if the effect so far has been to make New York dance audiences feel that they haven’t been missing much.


The company has performed in its Chelsea headquarters and at the Joyce Theater, but for its 10th anniversary, it has moved up to the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Three programs sample five works recently created for the troupe, none awful and yet none worth seeing again.


Opening night on Wednesday featured the longest work, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “Orbo Novo.” When Cedar Lake debuted this piece in 2009, it was a coup: this in-demand Belgian choreographer’s first dance for an American group. Alas, it was a disappointment, and it remained one on Wednesday.


Alexander Dodge’s mobile set — huge lattice structures that the cast of 15 rolls to form walls, cages and jungle gyms — looked at home on the big stage. Live music by the Mosaic String Quartet and the pianist Aaron Wunsch was classy. And the dancers showed off high-definition technique in committed performances.


But five years on, they still sounded juvenile reciting from “My Stroke of Insight,” a book by the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor about her own stroke. The text explains the difference between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the left supposedly concerned with past and future, the right with the present.


When it comes to neuroanatomy, both Dr. Taylor and Mr. Cherkaoui are right-siders, advocating “the power to choose” right-brain thinking in order to merge with the universe and promote world peace.


Mr. Cherkaoui’s choice to spread Dr. Taylor’s first-person account among the dancers is logically consistent. But it’s also obvious, as are most of Mr. Cherkaoui’s ideas: underlining the reductive, polemical text with bald pantomime; syncing predictably with Szymon Brzoska’s score.


And Mr. Cherkaoui’s wet noodle choreography — ever undulant, continually collapsing, heavy on floor work, weak on footwork — has a tendency to leak energy. With repetition, what is boneless comes to seem mindless.


It need not be so, yet the anti-intellectual false dichotomies of “Orbo Novo” find unfortunate echoes in the rest of Cedar Lake’s Brooklyn Academy of Music programs.


The exception is “Grace Engine,” by Crystal Pite, whose two works for the troupe are its best. It’s good news that she has signed on as associate choreographer, a smart choice for the future.


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