Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet thrives on diversity
February 25, 2014
When New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs in Park City on Saturday, the audience will understand why it is recognized as an organization that focuses on cultivating collaborations with artists, composers and some of the world’s most sought after choreographers.
The company will perform three works, "Violet Kid" by Hofesh Shechter, "Tuplet" by Alexandra Ekman and "Necessity, Again" by Jo Strømgren, said Alexandra Damiani, interim executive director for the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
"These are all different worlds and dance languages, Damiani said during a phone call from the company’s stop in Berkeley, Calif. "I have to say that even though we present different programs each night we perform, the true line are the same. So it’s important that we showcase the versatility and sophistication of the dancers."
With that in mind, Damiani prepares a different program every night from the company’s repertoire.
"We are a company with very strong dancers who come from all over the world with diverse background and training," she explained. "I want to make sure I curate works that will focus on those differences.
"At times it’s a headache, she laughed. "However, it’s important for me, especially because we are celebrating our 10-year anniversary this year. But like I said, it’s important to showcase the skills of the dancers and how they navigate the different dance languages."
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There are other criteria that Damiani uses in selecting pieces to perform.
"First, there are some programs that I know work together," she said. "I also know that we have works that won’t work together either they are all too dark or too similar."
She also likes feedback from the presenters and talked with Park City Institute Executive Director Teri Orr, who is producing the Park City show.
"I always like to hear what the presenters have to say about the audience," Damiani said. "It’s always nice to know what they think, because we can find a program that is accessible to their audience.
"If an audience is familiar with dance, we will select works that are more abstract, but if the audience is fairly new to dance, we will find works that are easier to enjoy," she said. "Also, depending on the theater, we can do more tech-heavy pieces if we have time to prepare the props and sets."
Damiani also follows a set of guidelines when setting up collaborations.
"When you collaborate, there is a lot of timing and positioning required to make something happen," she said. "So I would look at the needs of the company. If I have some dance pieces that are pretty serious and heavy, I know right away that I will need a piece that will break that. It’s important that there is contrast in our repertory."
Throughout Cedar Lake’s 10 years, Damiani has learned about the misconceptions people have about repertory companies.
"Some think that because a company is a repertory company it means that there is not a lot of depth in its vision," she said. "This is a very subjective way of thinking, but it happens quite a lot.
"I think the advantage of a repertory company is that we can present works that contrast each other," Damiani said. "It’s like when a woman puts on makeup around her eyes, she puts some black and then adds some color upon that, and the contrast creates something different."
Damiani also thinks about the dancers’ needs.
"I want them to stay with the company, so they have to be fulfilled," she said. "I have to challenge them and feed them artistically."
Her last check is intuition.
"I also follow my gut feelings, because Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has created an identity and needs to build on that," she said. "The artistic growth has been an amazing journey."
The biggest milestone in that timeline came in 2007, when choreographer Ohad Naharin came in to mount a full evening piece of his work, "Decadance," Damiani said.
"Time was the hero then because we worked with him for three months," she said. "We had time to delve into his world and into the way he approaches, thinks about and experiences dance."
Damiani, who was the company’s Ballet Master at that time, witnessed a drastic change and maturity come over the dancers.
"The experience expanded our way of thinking and it was a big defining moment of movement and performance," she said.
All the choreographers that came since that experience have added to the palate of her dancers’ skills, Damiani said.
"Each choreographer has added to the dancers’ toolbox, challenging them with technique, musicality, fluidity and the spirit of the pieces that they set," she said. "Everyone has benefited from this."
Damiani began dancing when she was four while living in the French Alps.
"I was four years old and remember being in front of a mirror at my parents home and just dancing," she said. "It’s a mystery to me why I did it, but as I moved from space to space and felt the movement of the air on my face, I loved it."
She asked her mother to enroll her in ballet classes.
"I was too young, but my mom was tired of me begging for classes so we lied about my age," Damiani said laughing. "To this day, I know that dancing was that vital to me and an important way for me to express myself.
"It took a lot of courage to follow this path and it went against a lot of logic, but it was clear to me, although I still don’t know why," she said.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will perform at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 435-655-3114 or http://www.ecclescenter.org.