Goodbye, Cedar Lake

June 3, 2015

Twelve years ago, a friend and I wandered to a converted photo studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to see the debut of a brand-new contemporary ballet company. To be honest, we were mostly drawn by our curiosity over reports of generous dancer paychecks. We found out that although those paychecks had attracted a group of top-notch dancers, the pieces they were given to perform were just south of mediocre. We wrote it off as the dubious pet project of a rich heiress who didn’t know any better.

Fast forward four years, and the company had a new director who had somehow convinced Ohad Naharin to spend three months with the dancers, training them in Gaga and compiling an evening-length piece. The result was fantastic. Suddenly, the dance world couldn’t stop talking about the company as it added to its repertoire pieces by Crystal Pite, Hofesh Shechter, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Angelin Preljocaj, Alexander Ekman—often introducing U.S. audiences to choreographers who had previously only been seen abroad.

So when we found out in March that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet would be folding after its performances at Brooklyn Academy of Music this week, I was kind of heartbroken. Although I wasn’t surprised. Because, let’s be honest, as important as the company was to the U.S. dance scene, it was also just a pet project of a rich Walmart heiress, founder Nancy Laurie. The first sign of rocky waters was when long-time artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer—who’d been responsible for transforming the company’s rep—stepped down in 2013. There had long been rumors of a notoriously bad atmosphere inside the company, where Laurie purportedly micromanaged artistic decisions like casting and fined dancers for making mistakes onstage. At a panel I went to a few weeks before the company announced its closure, one of its main dancers was already talking about looking ahead to what would come next in her career.

I’m not worried for this group of dancers. The talent level is so incredible, we all know they’ll have great next chapters, and some already have jobs lined up. But I will sorely miss the company’s innovative rep. Sure, Hubbard Street and BODYTRAFFIC feature some of the same choreographers, but not quite as consistently.

Watching the opening night of the final BAM performances last night, I realized I’ll also miss seeing these dancers perform together. A duet between Ebony Williams and Jon Bond was so perfectly in sync yet so dynamic, it was almost like watching a mirror of movement on two very different bodies. The opening piece, My Generation by Richard Siegal, was popping with kinetic energy between these dancers who seemed determined to revel in their last shows onstage together. The audience felt their energy, too, and was hooting and hollering in the middle of the piece. It was a celebratory, emotional atmosphere, and these fantastic dancers were giving it their all. By the final curtain call, I could have sworn I saw a couple of the long-time members tearing up. I was, too.