Fans of cutting-edge contemporary dance will be treated to a noteworthy first Saturday at George Mason University Center for the Arts.
Although founded in 2003, the barrier-breaking Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will perform in the Washington, D.C., metro area for the first time this weekend.
“Excited” by Cedar Lake’s D.C.-area debut, artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer said he was equally excited he and his 16-member company of dancers will be presenting three distinct pieces, which will “showcase our different personalities.”
On Dance magazine’s 2008 list of “25 to Watch,” Cedar Lake is known for its dancers bold athleticism and precise, yet edgy, technique and the company’s innovative “marriage of movement and multimedia.”
It also has garnered an international reputation for its merging of classical, contemporary and popular dance forms.
Speaking by phone from the company’s New York City homebase, the Paris-born-and-raised Pouffer, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, said the prime mission of the company is to showcase and introduce audiences to what is new and original throughout the dance world, especially Europe.
“There is a world of talented choreographers. We have to push the art … take people on a different kind of journey,” he said.
Since taking over the artistic reins of Cedar Lake in 2005, Pouffer, 37, has done precisely that, steadily growing the company’s renown for acquiring and commissioning groundbreaking new works by emerging choreographers.
A New York Times article described him as a “curator of one of the most ambitious world class repertoires in America today.”
Saturday’s program at the Center for the Arts includes works by choreographers Regina van Berkel, Crystal Pite and Alexander Ekman.
“Simply Marvel,” created for Cedar Lake by the Netherlands-based choreographer van Berkel, is set to Paganini variations (with additional music by Theo Verbey). It “contrasts sections of great chaos with cautious transformations using poetic duets and trios.” The piece, for nine dancers, will especially showcase the virtuosity of the company’s female dancers, Pouffer said.
“Grace Engine” is the second work Vancouver-based choreographer and performer Crystal Pite has created for Cedar Lake, Pouffer said. Danced by the whole company, Pouffer especially admires how the work “pushes the boundaries.”
In “Grace Engine,” Pite explores the human experience in a series of moments along an elastic timeline. “The dancing contains flashes of recognizable narrative, as if the body itself is a cinematic device, capable of jump cuts, flashbacks and montage.”
A rhythmic group piece, “Hubbub” by Ekman, a young Swedish choreographer, also features the whole company. Known for creating works that are clever, fast-paced and full of humor, Ekman’s “Hubbub,” which follows a crowd through their weekly performance ritual, showcases the “theatricality” of Cedar Lake’s dancers, Pouffer said.
However, because of the Center for Arts’ more traditional proscenium seating, Saturday’s audience will not experience one of the series of innovative dance “installations” that Pouffer introduced when he joined Cedar Lake.
A less formalized approach to dance performance, Pouffer’s installations merge the audience with the dancers, creating a collaboration that’s different every time.
Performed in open gallery-type spaces, the audience, Pouffer said, is free to choose its own path around the dancers, and the dancers, in turn, must adapt themselves as well.
Although Mason’s performance space might be more traditional, Pouffer promised what the audience will see in front of them on stage will still be “revolutionary.”
But, he suggested, if the company acquires new fans with its Mason performance, he hopes some might venture up to its studio on West 26th street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in June when the company will be performing a new installation piece.
It was Cedar Lake’s performance of Pouffer’s installation piece, “Glassy Essence,” however, that caught the attention of Hollywood film director George Nolfi and garnered the company a prominent place in his 2011 romance/science-fiction thriller “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.
The character played by Blunt is a dancer with Cedar Lake. Pouffer had the formidable task of teaching Blunt, essentially a nondancer in the beginning, to be a believable performer in the solo, duet and ensemble sequences seen in the film. The dances also had to conform to the Cedar Lake aesthetic.
Pouffer, who choreographed the dances seen in the film, recalled that Blunt, whom he and other company dancers worked with for several months of boot-camp-style training, worked extremely hard and took her preparation very seriously.
“I loved it,” he said.
In a press release announcing the company’s role in the film, Pouffer said, “Together we learned that she could use her body to communicate in ways she hadn’t explored, and at the same time, I learned how an actor could turn emotions into movement.”
Already known for the merging of movement and multimedia in Cedar Lake’s performances, Pouffer said his experience with the film was so fascinating it might inspire him to do more with film and dance in the future.
“But you need to be careful how you use it,” he cautioned. “It could be overpowering, might control what people see,”
And in terms of dance, he added, “there’s nothing like live. Live is when the magic happens.”