Benoit-Swan Pouffer, artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, hopes to bring modern dance to the Dallas mainstream
Ever since Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the gay artistic director of the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, took over the company three seasons ago, he’s been on a mission to introduce America to a new vision of what modern ballet can be even if he has to do it one city at a time.
A few days before bringing his troupe to Dallas as part of TITAS’ dance season, he chatted about his influences and the homoeroticism that helps distinguish modern dance.
McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus. Feb. 8-9 at 8 p.m. $14-$59. 214-528-5576.
You grew up in Paris but saw a tape of Alvin Ailey that made you move to the U.S. Why was he such an influence on you? As a teenager, I was surprised there was a black dance company, and that was the reason why I wanted to come to the states. And then I danced for the company.
How does being an artistic director differ from being a dancer? There is no school for getting a diploma to be an artistic director, but I felt it was always there I was always trying to create things as a child. I just finished dancing three years ago, so it’s still really fresh. As a dancer, I was always opinionated there were certain things I would do and not do. The Alvin Ailey Company was great for that. The job I see as a duty to create an identity for the company. I’m having a great time. I’ve learned a lot, even as a human being.
How do you define “contemporary ballet” as opposed to classical ballet? There is ballet, which we know, but what is contemporary? My dancers take ballet they are en pointe everyday. They have to master ballet training but have an understanding of modern dance. We are actually opening the door to not just one genre. A Cedar Lake dancer can be a tool of neoclassical ballet and modern dance.
But I’m not interested in doing “Giselle” or “Swan Lake,” unless doing a version that is modern. Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” was incredible. But there are many accomplished choreographers in Europe who are not known in the U.S., even in New York. When I moved here, I wanted to see certain things no one knew what they were. I thought Cedar Lake could be that bridge.
Contemporary dance often seems very sensual, and tends to homoeroticize the male form in a way classical ballet doesn’t. Or is that wishful thinking? Not all modern choreographers are about men. Martha Graham was all about the woman. But I know what you mean. With ballet, it’s often about the ballerina and you have to show her off. The man’s role is to be a good partner except “Don Quixote,” where there is a beautiful male figure. In every classical ballet, there is a prince, but the movement is mostly about technique and how you can master it. In modern, there is maybe a little more room.
Your upcoming show with TITAS, “Decadence,” seems very homoerotic. Ah, you mean “Black Milk” with Oscar! You will really like it. It is primal and bursting of energy and filled with a clan of men. It is sensual and sometimes erotic but forceful as well. It really pushes men to their limits.
In “Decadence,” you’ll see a variety of music and it’s really a very full range of different emotions pop, rock, classical. This performance shows the electricity of the dancer as well. The audience is very involved in the work. I’m very excited to bring it to Dallas. It’s going to open the door to the mainstream.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Friday, February 8, 2008.