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By LAUREN KAY
Though only in its seventh season, Cedar Lake Ballet has already become one of New York City’s preeminent contemporary ballet companies.
Fifteen outstanding dancers, all able to blend as a group and explode as individuals, translate the work of international choreographers ranging from Israeli Ohad Naharin to Canadian Crystal Pite. Sometimes the work is fiercely physical, like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s exotic and eerie Orbo Novo, in which dancers rage and swirl among a cage-like set; other times, it’s sweet and linear, like Crystal Pite’s tender Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, filled with images of dancers reaching toward each other in arching positions.
Artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer says this diversity was always his aim: “I decided to take up the challenge of introducing the U.S. to choreographers they aren’t used to seeing. There was a gap between the international scene and the New York scene, so Cedar Lake is here to close that divide. I want to make this talent accessible to everyone here.”
From October 27 to November 7, audiences can catch the troupe at the Joyce Theatre, with rotating performances of Unit in Reaction by Jacopo Godani; Hubbub by Alexander Ekman; Sunday, Again by Jo Stromgren; frame of view by Didy Veldman; and The Fools by Hofesh Shechter. The first four of those pieces originated with CLB, and that's a crucial part of Pouffer's vision. “We give choreographers time and space at our facility to create in a company environment,” he says. “This provides a deeper connection and process.”
Crucially, the works are divergent in style. “We offer pieces that are very different from each other, so that every audience member will find something to relate to,” Pouffer says. “There is a sense of theatricality, a story to each piece that is loose, so viewers always have something to latch on to, though it’s their own, too. While in the first six years of my directorship we were defining CLB, I think now audiences—though they may not like every single work—appreciate that we are taking risks and saying something about what’s happening in the world.”
In each piece, all fifteen dancers are stretched to their artistic and technical limits, ranging from classical technique with pointe shoes to more modern choices. At four years, Acacia Schachte is one of the most veteran company members. Tiny in stature, her sinewy build, feline face, expressive fluidity, and ability to articulate each joint make her an invaluable part of the group. (She’s featured in every piece this season.) “Acacia is exceptional,” says Pouffer. “She’s obsessed with dance—in a good way! She has charisma, is super clear with her movement, and is an unbelievable worker. I often have to tell her to go home when she goes past rehearsal time.”
Originally from Santa Barbara, Schachte moved to Vancouver in her early childhood and later danced with Ballet British Columbia for seven years before joining CLB. “I was looking for a place where I’d be involved in creation, not just in performing repertoire," she says. "Working with a choreographer who has their own style and knowledge of dance in the studio is so inspiring. Joining during Swan’s [Pouffer] second year, when he was taking so many risks—as he still does—was so exciting.”
Because she's working with a diverse group of choreographers, Schachte concedes, “My body goes through a period where it asks, ‘what’s going on now?!' The hands are always very specific from choreographer to choreographer: Ohad Naharin wanted us to gently feel the space around us and Jacopo wants you to use every joint in a hyper-awake way."
But ultimately, she adds, “Working this way has helped me grow as an artist, because as a person we’re always changing. And at CLB we’re doing that, too.”
Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer in NYC