Under Benoit Swan Pouffer, Could Rambert Become the New Cedar Lake?

When Rambert, the United Kingdom's oldest professional dance company, announced Wednesday that Benoit Swan Pouffer had been appointed artistic director, it was hardly surprising news. Since April, two months after Mark Baldwin stepped away from Rambert after a 15-year tenure at its head, Pouffer has served as guest artistic director. That initial appointment was in and of itself a somewhat unexpected move, but the company had already brought the choreographer into the fold with a commission for its newly-formed junior company, Rambert2.

Pouffer, of course, is best known on this side of the pond as the former artistic director of the now-defunct Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Under his leadership, the company became an incubator for edgy new work and an early commissioner of the likes of Ohad Naharin, Hofesh Shechter and Crystal Pite. But after its sole funder pulled their financial backing, in 2015 what was for many a dream company shut down.

Rambert is a different beast entirely, with a storied history that stretches back to 1926. It's where Sirs Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor cut their choreographic teeth. After transitioning away from being a touring classical ballet company in favor of newer contemporary works in the 1960s, its repertoire grew to include works by Glen Tetley, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs. Homegrown choreographers like Christopher Bruce and Richard Alston left their marks with new dances and through their legacies as artistic directors.

So while Pouffer has already made it clear that he has ambitious plans for Rambert, looking to the company as Cedar Lake 2.0 would be premature and overly simplistic. The company has a history that demands acknowledgment. ("At 92 years old you have some masterpieces," Pouffer acknowledged in an interview with The Guardian.) This may make it less nimble when it comes to leaping ahead of the cutting edge in contemporary choreography the way Cedar Lake did. And it's worth keeping in mind that with the U.K. currently in the throes of Brexit negotiations, work visas for dancers outside of the U.K.—perhaps even those from European Union member countries—could get complicated.

However, Rambert's weighty history is also one of seeking out the most innovative artists currently at work. As Pouffer told The Guardian, "I want this company, Rambert, to be one of the best in the world. To be recognized as the beacon for contemporary dance in the U.K., and in Europe, and even the world." He already has plans to bring in existing works by Wayne McGregor and Shechter, and has commissioned Jermaine Spivey (of Kidd Pivot) and Marion Motin (who has made moves for Christine and the Queens), two choreographers whose work is largely alien to the U.K. Pouffer has a track record of finding choreographers whose work is on the cusp of blowing up, and his enthusiasm for new work is clearly as strong as it ever has been. In August, the company even invited spectators into its London headquarters for an immersive installation—something Cedar Lake used to do with some regularity at its own building in New York City.

One thing is for certain: Pouffer is not a director who will be content resting on his laurels. We'll be watching with interest as he shapes his vision for Rambert in the coming year.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.


Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

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