New York based company Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet makes its highly anticipated UK debut, presenting three UK premieres at Sadler’s Wells this October. The company were founded in 2003 by billionaire Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie, and since then have forged an unparalleled reputation on the American dance scene for commissioning new work for the company from some of the world’s most sought after dance makers. Volt Café met up with artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer.

Volt Café: How long have you been the artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet?
Benoit-Swan Pouffer: I was appointed artistic director in 2005 – so going on eight years. Next year marks Cedar Lake’s 10-year anniversary!

VC: I’m sure you’ve heard this before but your name is very unusual and poetic – where are you from originally and were you really christened Swan? Truly the perfect name for a dancer!
B-SP: I was born in Paris. Benoit-Swan is my Christian name. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was reading Proust’s ‘Swann in Love’  – and that’s why Swan. What happen to the second ‘n’ I don’t know, my mother told me when the birth certificate was registered it had one ‘n’ and they would not change it – Les Français!

VC: What attracted you to working with Cedar Lake Dance Company?
B-SP: The attractiveness of being with a young company from the beginning, to form its potential, shape its future and guide its opportunities.

Photo ©Julieta Cervantes

VC: How would you describe Cedar Lake to us?
B-SP: I hope Cedar Lake is a wonderful vehicle for international artists to use — a safe and welcoming environment for creation. Add to that the ability to offer choreographers the opportunity of working with – and being part of – the energy and spirit of an American company.

VC: Cedar Lake was founded in 2003 and yet for such a young company, you’ve achieved so much already. You’re an American company, yet you tend to use mainly non-American choreographers. Why is that?
B-SP: 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.

VC: When I researched Cedar Lake, much was made of the fact that Cedar Lake has a wealthy benefactor. Do you feel this sets you apart from struggling dance companies that rely on public funding?
B-SP: 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.

Photo ©Julieta Cervantes

VC: Cedar Lake is making their debut at Sadler’s Wells, which is very exciting for both London and you too, I hope! Cedar Lake is performing three works by Hofesh Shechter, Alexander Ekman and Crystal Pite respectively. Tell us what is unique about those pieces and what attracted you to those particular works?
B-SP: Well first of all I love their work! All three are unique and wonderful artists. 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. In general presenting the dancers from different choreographic viewpoints. We love it when we hear, ‘He or she, is completely different in this piece from the last.’

VC: I know you’ve performed in works by such renowned choreographers as Bill T Jones and Alvin Ailey. Who would you rate as your most inspiring choreographer of all the works you’ve performed in yourself or worked with as an artistic director? And why?
B-SP: It’s not just one choreographer or one company. Throughout my career, and wherever I have worked or whatever I’ve performed I’ve learned something. I simply cannot put one artist ahead of another.

VC: Which emerging dance companies inspire you right now?
B-SP: Almost anything having to do with James Thiérrée. I love watching him and I admire and respect what he is doing. I relate to his work and am inspired by it.

VC: What do you look for in a dancer who is hoping to work for Cedar Lake?
B-SP: 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 dancer’s 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 personal uniqueness to their dancing.

VC: Where are you hoping to take Cedar Lake in the future?
B-SP: I’m hoping we continue to push the company into new territory. Additionally I hope to be able to steer Cedar Lake to larger and more non-traditional ‘dance’ audiences. There’s the ever present danger that dance is elitist and not understood or appreciated by the masses. I would like to work against that misconception.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Sadler’s Wells
UK premiere
Thursday 11th – Saturday 13th October 2012
Performances at 7:30pm
Tickets: £12 – £27
Ticket office: 0844 412 4300

Words by Anna Bang


anna bang, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Sadler's Wells,