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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cedar Lake—Pivoting

by Susan Yung

Tuplet. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is having a moment. The company celebrates its 10-year anniversary and BAM debut with a run from June 11 to 14 in the Howard Gilman Opera House. And it welcomes a new artistic director, Alexandra Damiani—although “new” is not exactly right. Damiani has been with Cedar Lake for nine years now as associate artistic director and ballet master, running rehearsals and keeping the impressively diverse repertory in top shape, and has been acting artistic director after the departure last year of its previous AD, Benoit Swan Pouffer. In this time, she has forged strong working relationships with the dancers, many of who are long-tenured.

Another twist is the appointment of an associate choreographer who is in demand worldwide, Crystal Pite, who created for Cedar Lake Grace Engine, included in BAM’s season. She will create a minimum of two works over a few years, with time in between to research. Pite said, “Cedar Lake is a dynamic company of distinct individuals; I love the versatility and courage of the dancers. They have a rigorous commitment to physical skill and a willingness to risk, so I can manifest a lot through them—both choreographically and theatrically. The organization itself—administration, production—is professional and open-minded. There is a spirit of curiosity and commitment to innovation that permeates the whole building. I can throw a seed of an idea in there and I know it will find fertile ground.”

It is an advantage that Pite has worked with CLCB starting seven years ago. “I like the understanding and trust that we have built over time. The better I know a group of dancers, the more able I am to deliver the best in them, and vice versa,” said Pite. “When we start a creation together, we are standing on what we have already built. I’m happy to make this a long-term relationship. The fact that the company is in New York is gravy. I love the city, and I love the other artists and experiences I can connect to there.” The new position most importantly provides the benefit of more rehearsals with the dancers. Damiani added, “We know time gives value. Good wine, relationships—the same with the arts!”

With the change at the top, Cedar Lake has recommitted to its structure as a repertory company, meaning it commissions and performs works by many different choreographers rather than focusing on one artistic voice, or just one style. In a decade, CLCB has made its mark in many ways. Damiani cited two. “We are a very good repertory company; there is a depth to it. And we have a unique group of dancers—very strong individually, with strong personalities. They can do anything. And those two things are not going to change.” The current repertory is weighted toward European choreographers, and, apart from Pite who is from Canada, that will continue. Ten years has also allowed the company to accumulate an impressive canon of works, any of which could be remounted. “I have been looking at and playing with these pieces, absolutely,” says Damiani.

Violet Kid. Photo: Sharen Bradford

In addition to an annual spring season in New York and a touring schedule which this year includes Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, Cedar Lake has literally thrown open its doors to its beautiful West 26th Street headquarters and welcomed the public to participate in what it calls “installations.” In one of these recent shorter events, the dancers moved throughout the two spaces between several platform stages, interacting with viewers. Damiani would like to use the company’s space more, and plans to have the dancers regularly create pieces. An education component is in the works as well. “There is momentum—with the education program, with the dancers creating, and of course building the big structure that will keep Cedar Lake as a repertory company,” she said.

The 10-year mark is a good vantage point from which to take stock of the company’s bearings. Damiani sums it up. “The eclecticism, the versatility, the journey for an audience... I love full evenings, one vision, but I’ve been in dance and on tour for many years, so I can appreciate how the audience needs to think and then laugh, and versatility helps. So I’m very happy.”

In addition, Cedar Lake’s BAM opera house debut carries great meaning for her. “I went there to see Pina Bausch, Angelin Preljocaj, Sasha Waltz... BAM was huge in my career, and the impact it had on opening my artistic horizon—it’s very special.” The June run opens the next chapter for a company that already has quite a story in the works.
Reprinted from April 2014

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