Review: Cedar Lake shakes up the ballet world

A different energy
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  September 22, 2010

PUSHING IT Two members of the eclectic company.

So many times over the last two decades, the Performing Arts Series at Rhode Island College has brought dance companies of international status to our shores — and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is no exception (September 30 at 7:30 pm in Roberts Hall). Cedar Lake will present the same program that won them acclaim at this year’s Spoleto Festival; their New York season follows at the end of October; they head to Europe in November.

Founded in 2003 by Walmart heiress Nancy Laurie, Cedar Lake has been praised for its dynamic corps of 15 polished dancers and its emphasis on using and commissioning new work from choreographers outside the US. Artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer, a native of France who has lived here for 17 years, elaborated on that mission in a phone conversation last week.

"I want to bring awareness to these choreographers who don’t have a chance to show or create work in the States," he explained. "I like to believe we can be a vehicle for these choreographers. It’s not just that I’m looking for interesting work — there are plenty of opportunities right here in New York. But I’m from Europe and I would like to close the gap between what’s happening outside the US and here. The dancers here have a different type of energy — they are hungry and they push things. In Europe, dancers sign a contract for life; in the States, there’s no such thing."

Pouffer is certain that dances by the three choreographers for the RIC show — Jo Strømgren (Norway), Jacopo Godani (Italy), and Didy Veldman (Holland)  — had not previously been seen in this country.

The program begins with Strømgren’s Sunday, Again, set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, with "abstract movement patterns woven together in fugal ways" and thematically looking at the "irritating and inevitable Sunday which forces couples to test their coexistence abilities," in Strømgren’s words, from a RIC program note.

"Jo is not just a director/playwright, but he has a wonderful sense of putting a frame around a situation and giving us an idea of what these people are going through," Pouffer noted. "He has a strong sense of humor in his work, and I asked him to use the full company, as a way of introducing them to a new audience."

Godani’s Unit in Reaction, set to the experimental electro-acoustic music of the Munich duo Ulrich Müller and Siegfried Rössert, urges the dancers "to their limits, in bursts of speed and tempo . . . so that they release themselves from the cerebral and move toward the purely physical qualities of dance," as described in Godani’s program note.

As a soloist with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, Godani "found his own way of moving, his own very particular aesthetic," in Pouffer’s words.

"Though my dancers are ballet-trained, he brings them a modern sense of movement, and his piece shows the eclecticity of the company," he added.

Eclectic also describes Veldman’s frame of view, which utilizes music from Argentinian classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, Azerbaijani composer/pianist Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, French artists Offenbach and Brel, Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen, and Americans Pink Martini and Chuck Willis.

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