Visiting companies coming to town often offer programs featuring what might be termed the usual suspects—works by the same few choreographers tend to appear in many repertories. But one of the youngest local troupes, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, is also one of the most individual in its point of view and repertory choices.
In particular, its artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, has his finger on the pulse of contemporary European choreography, and regularly invites up-and-comers from the continent to work with the 16 versatile Cedar Lake dancers, who seem to be ready for any stylistic and technical challenge.
The two programs that Cedar Lake is bringing to the Joyce Theater through May 27 feature works by choreographers from Sweden, Canada, France, Israel, Norway and The Netherlands. Except for Angelin Preljocaj’s 1995 Annonciation, which Cedar Lake first performed in 2008, the repertory consists entirely of new works created specifically for the company. Four are New York premieres and one is a world premiere.
Asked whether he intentionally avoids American choreographers, Pouffer (who was born and trained in France before dancing with the Alvin Ailey company for seven years) said, “I try to bring an awareness to a body of work by choreographers who don’t have a chance to come, to create work for another company or to bring their own company to America. Cedar Lake is the vehicle for those choreographers to show their work.”
Speaking at the company’s spacious studios and offices in Chelsea, which also includes a 199-seat theater, Pouffer continued, “Cedar Lake is not just a ‘European’ company. But because I’m European and I have a lot of ties to Europe, it made sense for me to start there.
“For these past seven years I’ve been trying to find choreographers I really feel are relevant—and I wanted to find something that we don’t see so much in the States. I felt it was important to bring these choreographers to work with the Cedar Lake dancers. Now if I can find an American choreographer—a New York choreographer—I’m very open.”
His focus is on making a serious commitment to choreographers, giving each an unusually generous eight or nine weeks to create a work. In most cases, he will first invite a choreographer to restage—or adapt—an earlier piece, then, once the dancers have a certain familiarity with their style and approach, have them create a premiere.
That has been the case with most of the choreographers whose new works will be seen at the Joyce. Alexander Ekman, Crystal Pite, Hofesh Schechter and Jo Strømgren have all worked with Cedar Lake at least once already.
In making his choices, Pouffer explained, he considers the existing repertory, then looks for “what will complement or contrast the work. It’s very important to see what I already have, so I can build a program. I contact a choreographer maybe two years in advance, and we start talking about the needs of the company. I also send them tapes of the current repertoire, so they have an idea of what they’re going to be with.
“I don’t give them an assignment; it’s more a conversation between them and me to see where they are artistically and what they want to create. I try to be really aware of their work—point out what I like and why, why it will help our company to have a piece that brings this type of energy.”
The Oslo-based Strømgren, whose Necessity, Again will have its world premiere on next week’s program, first worked with Cedar Lake in 2007. “What I like about Jo is his sense of theatricality. He has a sense of dry humor that I love,” Pouffer said.
“He’s a theater director as well as a choreographer; he has his own theater company, which is very influenced by movement. Because we, as a group, had such a good experience with his first piece, I felt it made sense to invite him again,” he continued.
Cedar Lake’s dancers are employed 48 weeks a year, and the company tours 15 weeks a year. Pouffer looks for dancers who are “eclectic and open”; for the women “it is a requirement that they have a true understanding of pointe technique.” This season’s rep includes one work, by Dutch choreographer (and Cedar Lake first-timer) Regina van Berkel, in which the women dance in pointe shoes. (In others, they may be barefoot or in socks.)
This is Cedar Lake’s third Joyce season in under three years, so they’re clearly establishing a regular local presence, even while keeping busy all over; they have an ongoing residency in Los Angeles and upcoming performances at the Spoleto and Montpelier Festivals. Still, there was intense expectancy as the company runs prepared for the Joyce. “A New York season means a lot—it’s home. The dancers are so excited. They always say they want to perform more in New York.”
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
May 15–27, Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave. (at 19th St.), www.joyce.org; $10+.
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