There aren't many contemporary ballet companies with a billionaire heiress footing the bill, but New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet hit that lucrative jackpot when it came to funding. Founded in 2009 by Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie, the company is living, breathing, dancing testament to what can be achieved if the ball and chain of funding isn't a restrictive issue.
Cedar Lake will be presenting a mixed bill at Sadler's Wells, but perhaps the biggest pull of the program is Hofesh Shechter's Violet Kid, set to an original score by Shechter himself- a dark foreboding piece about striving for harmony in an often terrifying world. The enfant terrible of contemporary dance is in high demand, but he did find a minute to chat about his recent experiences with Cedar Lake, telling me that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet had a 'fresh, ambitious drive about them and a young feel', an energy which he says was great fun to be a part of.
Commenting on the theatrical nature of his work, Shechter explained that his inspiration was drawn from many and varied places, such as 'film, conversations with people, observing human emotions and inner conflicts', making his work convey so much more than just movement.
The man at the epicenter of this American tour de force is, strangely enough, a Frenchman. Benoit Swan Pouffer possesses credentials many a dancer dreams of- Paris born and trained, his career blossomed under Alvin Ailey's wing. He joined Cedar Lake in 2003, and has earned a reputation for bringing together the best new voices in dance, and possessing a formidable sixth sense in the audition room. Here, he shares his thoughts on Cedar Lake's first trip across the pond, European choreography, and how to pick the best dancer from the crop... listen closely, theatre bods!
This is Cedar Lake's first trip across the pond to the UK. European theatregoers often have a reputation as being more open-minded to experimentation- have you found this to be the case, and how do you think a British audience will react to Cedar Lake's work?
It is my hope that Cedar Lake's work can be challenging to and appreciated by our audiences in both Europe and the U.S. With our premiere in the UK, I am particularly interested to see how British audiences respond to the work of familiar choreographers when viewed through the lens and with the energy of an American company. Cedar Lake is a "melting pot" - the different backgrounds of our performers and choreographers create a particular dynamic that, I believe, has international appeal.
What components are important to you when picking material for a triple bill? How do get the balance just right?
I try to present the audience with a complete experience. A journey. A program needs highs and lows, brightness and darkness. I study and evaluate our repertory and work to put together a program that shows the diversity of contemporary dance as demonstrated by our different choreographers, but also showcases the diversity of our company and presents the dancers in a variety of ways. We love when we hear, "He/she is completely different in this piece from the last."
You have gained notoriety for having a sort of sixth sense about a dancer's potential- do you think it's possible for you to quantify what special thing you are looking for?
Once I've gotten past the more obvious points of determining the level of a dancers training, experience and technique, I get down to what, for me, is equally if not even more important. The dancers unique personality and character - what does a dancer have that is unique and a compliment to the Company. Cedar Lake is a Company of very diverse types. I look for dancers that possess a strong sense and awareness of self - dancers who are able to bring that personally uniqueness to their dancing.
While most companies stick to one specific school of thought, both in their training and performance, Cedar Lake's dancers must have to be incredibly adaptable to the varying techniques thrown at them. How does the company physically prepare for these many challenges?
We do start everyday with a ballet class because we believe in ballet technique as an excellent foundation for our work as dancers. However, ballet is just one of many tools we have to use in order to capture the choreographer's vision. The flexibility to work within different styles and genres comes with practice and, at Cedar Lake, happens through the work. One day we are dancing Shechter, and tomorrow Preljocaj and then Strømgren. This variety promotes adaptability. And besides our traditional daily classes our dancers take yoga, hip-hop, and are constantly trying other movement techniques. They are chameleons for sure, and that's something I look for as well.
Although the company is American, you more often than not look to Europe for choreographers. What is it about the European approach to choreography that appeals to you?
The choice of choreographers has been very organic and personal for me. Everything I've chosen reflects my own taste and goal of challenging my dancers. I am from Europe and it felt natural to start there, as I have many connections. I don't think that it will stop there. My eyes are open and I think Cedar Lake will begin to expand in different directions as well.
You have incredible funding, and a billionaire Heiress within your ranks - in what ways does this comparative lack of financial restriction grant you more creative freedom?
Cedar Lake is very fortunate to have the great support of its founder. And yes, it grants us extraordinary opportunities and artistic freedoms in both commissioning new works for the company and maintaining a high level of production and performance. However some think this is an unlimited source. It is not. We are a not-for-profit organization and work within an annual budget. We also fundraise to augment this budget, particularly for our educational program Cedar Lake 360º. We are extremely careful and judicious in our choices and work to make the most artistically of what we have.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet make their UK debut at Sadler's Wells in London, 11 - 13 October.
Tickets and information at www.sadlerswells.com