In the past year, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has welcomed a new artistic director, brought eight new dancers into its 19-member ranks and christened a colossal new space in NYC’s Chelsea gallery district. Though the company’s been around since 2002, its edgy new image is drawing national attention.
CL’s new artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer—or “Swan,” as he goes by—trained at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris before moving to NYC to study at the Ailey School. Now at just 31, and having danced with Philadanco, Donald Byrd/The Group and Complexions before settling in at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1997 to 2004, he has the physical prowess to continue a successful performing career. But having had a drive to choreograph since he was a kid, Swan found his calling offstage. “I feel that [choreographers] need those dancers who dedicate their life to dancing and refining this craft,” he says. “That was not my destiny. I’ve always known that my destiny was to create work.”
Swan calls the arsenal of young talent at his fingertips “a blessing.” Cedar Lake’s 16 company members and three apprentices have BFAs from schools like Juilliard, North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Utah and SUNY Purchase, and have spent time with companies like Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Compañia Nacional de Danza II.
Supported by the company’s founder, philanthropist and Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie, CL opened its new center in October 2005. The revamped warehouse building is the former studio of celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, and sits on a Chelsea block lined with art galleries. With gritty exposed brick, soaring vaulted ceilings and skylights, the space is a perfect match for the hip and technically impressive company. This summer, Swan has visions of taking dance out of its traditional theater format with multimedia dance installations so gallery hoppers along their block will have something to stop in and see at CL, too.
Following two triple-bill runs in October and February, in which Swan and two other emerging choreographers presented new works inspired by a shared theme, Swan’s first full-length ballet will debut this May. As for what’s to come for the company after that, Swan prefers to keep the audience guessing. “That’s how I see the company going forward—having such a diverse rep that you never know what we’re about to do the next season.”