Watching a rehearsal for Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s new piece Orbo Novo at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is a singular and illuminating experience. The troupe’s 18 stellar members swerve, roll and sway while practicing a phrase that suggests the sprightly Cherkaoui’s affinity for floorwork. Their ripped and ridiculously flexible bodies are able to do anything, whether balletic, hip-hop–infused or yogic. Observing them, it’s obvious that each dancer is both a star and an ensemble member: One moment, a dancer practices alone, adding personal accents to the arcing movement. But the next, she turns to help a friend with a complicated shoulder stand.
This unique dynamic is no coincidence. Cedar Lake’s artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, explains, “Because we only have 18 members, every spot is tremendously important. It’s like 18 soloists dancing together. I look for unique dancers with a story to tell. Sometimes I find wonderful dancers—but they don’t fit. It’s not size or skin color or anything like that. It’s how the dancers relate to each other. When that happens, it’s magical.”
From the scene inside the sprawling CLCB warehouse, it’s apparent Pouffer’s crafted that magic for the whole troupe. Since its inception in 2003, the group has enhanced the dancescape with phenomenal dancers, brilliant choice of choreographers and wildly creative productions like installations and an online video series. Now, after six years, the company has earned a prime spot in the NYC arts world and is highly respected as an innovative, edgy, newer kid on the block. Case in point: In July the company will perform the world premiere of Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Then, in October, the troupe will hit the stage of dance-haven The Joyce for their first NYC performance outside of their own Cedar Lake studio!
Like repertoire by heavy-hitters such as Crystal Pite and Ohad Naharin, Cherkaoui’s cerebral choreography (his first commission from a U.S. company!) speaks to the achievement of Pouffer’s main objectives: “I want to highlight international choreographers and give them a comprehensive welcome with enough time to create quality work [Cherkaoui was given three months to work with the Cedar Lake dancers!] and introduce audiences to performances that aren’t so conventional. I want us to be a company that is international from the inside out.”
Now with a band of standouts, prime choice of international choreographers and presentations at renowned venues coming together, Pouffer says his dreams are not only being realized but recognized, too. “It’s an honor to world-premiere Orbo Novo at Jacob’s Pillow,” says Pouffer. “The dancers and I know that this means acceptance. Our dreams are becoming reality!
Photo: Diego Uchitel