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Dancer VIP: Judith Jamison – Alvin Ailey former Artistic Director

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Home » 3 - Spring 07, Contemporary, DANCE

Swan Cedar Lake

Submitted by on 10 Feb 2008 – 7:31 PM Comments

When walking to the Cedar Lake studios, one feels almost like they are wandering into a New York slated for potential the streets widen, the traffic becomes less dense, and the warehouse gallery spaces occupy the ground floors of every building you pass. There is creativity in the air. movmnt recently met Artistic Director Swan Pouffer on location.

The twin one-story garages that house Cedar Lake’s company at 547 West 26th Street were renovated to accommodate brand new offices, lockers, a rehearsal hall, a lounge and a modern, modest, Cirque du Soleil-style interchangeable theatre. Formerly the studio of American master photographer Annie Leibovitz, the space is nothing short of any artist’s dream.

But none of it is more impressive than the refined and eloquent cast of characters that live, eat, sleep, and create inside of these walls. The artistic director, young Benoit-Swan Pouffer, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, is surprisingly humble for someone in his position.

Cedar Lake is a company born into privileges almost unimaginable to even veteran choreographers. Backed by Nancy Laurie (a Wal-Mart heiress), Swan is able to provide his dancers extensive contracts with health insurance, as well as have his own in and classical lines of a ballet dancer in their legs and feet. There is an obvious camaraderie between the members of Cedar Lake. Even after some tumultuous restructuring of the company’s direction, it seems like they are truly in this together. Even Nancy Laurie calls in at least once a week to ask Swan how everyone is doing. With a more traditional season on its way, Swan is attempting to show that the company house wardrobe department and on-call physical therapist, in addition to the new facility.

More importantly, because these things are taken care of, it enables him to pursue a much needed mission in the dance world by closing the awareness gap between the dance culture of America and Europe.

Parisian-born Swan essentially is a cross-cultural anomaly himself. His dance roots began at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris, yet he wound up dancing for one of the most iconic American dance companies, Alvin Ailey.

Even the dancers he hires possess polar qualities and must have modern tops with ballet bottoms. A Translation (from that glorious lilting French accent to plain English): Swan requires his dancers to have the athleticism, strength, and expression of a modern dancer in their upper bodies combined with the grace, length, and classical lines of a ballet dance in their legs and feet.

To Swan, the dancers are a palette of different colors that each bring a unique and indispensable part to the creation process. He interacts with them by generating a movement dialog. They build choreographic phrases together, breathing life into the steps as they form. Swan appreciates choreography that contains a message or through line and with these dancers who were selected under his microscopic eye, he is able to truly explore his vision.

With a more traditional season on its was, Swan is attempting to show that the company is taking a multifaceted approach to being an essential part of the dance community. After only two full years under their belts, Swan and rehearsal director Alexandra Damiani have been receiving reels from choreographers from all over the world. In 3×3, the upcoming winter show, Swan has chosen to showcase the works of Italian-born choreographer Jacopo Dani and Mexican born dance maker Edgar Zendejas to compliment one of his own works titled Vastav.

Both Swan and Alexandra find it truly important not to stay in the box. They agree that some people have their eyebrows raised at them not only because of their youth and the financial backing of the company, but also because of Cedar Lake’s versatile style of performance. In the past, some of their shows were heavily inundated by video, some installation. The choreography is at times more hip-hop, more jazz, sometimes contemporary, and other days, ballet. People would like to define them but they want to remain indefinable.

To Swan, Cedar Lake at its core is a laboratory. He has been successful in investing time to get the community involved in the creation process and dance in general. By opening the doors of the company for cost-free interactive performances a few times a month, he has been challenging the community not to notice them.

Swan promises to keep investigating new ways of showing dance. By 2008, he hopes to have completed a collaborative installation project that will feature singers as well as dancers. To him dance is all I know, and even if he could not move and create in the style that comes so naturally to him, it would still be, without question, his dream.

Beth Konopka