Gone are the days when professional dancers specialized in a single technique. In order to compete for jobs in today’s market, performers have to embrace a wide range of styles and skills, from classical ballet to release technique, floor work to hip-hop, so says Alexandra Damiani, interim artistic director of New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, founded just 10 years ago. Next Tuesday, UCSB Arts & Lectures brings Damiani and her versatile young company to the Granada Theatre for their Santa Barbara premiere.
“We ask a lot of dancers today,” Damiani explained on the phone last week. “Distinctions between types of dancers have blurred.” Nowhere, she says, is this truer than in a repertory company like Cedar Lake, where dancers are required to work with a changing cast of choreographers and to throw themselves into wildly differing techniques, idioms, and aesthetics.
“Our programs contain many different philosophies of dance and showcase the dancers’ fluency in many dance languages,” she said.
That’s certainly the case with the program they’re bringing to Santa Barbara, which seems designed to highlight this extreme flexibility on the part of the dancers. The show will open with “Indigo Rose,” choreographed in 2011 by Jiří Kylián for the junior company of Nederlands Dans Theater. The French-born Damiani, who herself pursued a successful career as a professional dancer before moving into her current administrative role, spoke with a performer’s appreciation of the way this work of Kylián’s “exudes the technical precision and physical hunger of younger dancers.”
“His talents really come forth in this work,” she added, “powerful musicality, a sense of timing, and beautiful elegance.”
The score for “Indigo Rose” incorporates the work of two very different composers — John Cage and Johann Sebastian Bach — which proves an extra challenge for the dancers. “Some of the Cage is pretty much uncountable, so the dancers have to really feel it and figure out a shared rhythm,” Damiani explained.
At the heart of this program is Crystal Pite’s “Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue.” Damiani described the Canadian choreographer’s work as “intimate, rich, and feminine.” Pite created the dance on Cedar Lake in 2007; it features cinematic lighting, some of which the dancers themselves manipulate onstage. If Kylian’s work tends to show its classical underpinnings, Pite’s movement vocabulary is at a further removal from traditional ballet technique; it’s characterized by fluidity of the spine and surprising changes in direction.
Closing out the evening’s program is “Necessity, Again,” a highly theatrical work by Norwegian choreographer, director, and playwright/choreographer Jo Strømgren. The score for this work alternates between audio recordings of a lecture given by French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the somewhat schmaltzy music of French crooner Charles Aznavour; dancers with big hairdos and high heels get to exercise their acting skills, as well as their athletic abilities.
For Damiani, the challenge and the satisfaction of leading a company like Cedar Lake is in the drawing together of such apparently disparate works within a single program. There’s no thematic content to this show, she explained; the thread that links such works together is the performers themselves.
“The dancers are challenged musically and technically in ‘Indigo Rose,’ and then in ‘Ten Duets’ they have to access a totally different humanity and authenticity,” she noted. “In ‘Necessity, Again,’ they’re thrown into a totally different language. In that way, the program is a wonderful journey.”
In fact, it could be said that it’s the variety of this program that ultimately illuminates what is shared, both between the dancers and with the audience.
“Dance can provide unity,” Damiani explained. “I think that now more than ever we need to connect with that unity — with poetry, beauty, and a sense of how amazing the human body can be.”
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will perform at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Tuesday, February 11, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. The company will also offer a master class on Monday, February 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Gustafson School of Dance. To reserve a spot, call (805) 966-6950.