Cedar Lake rocked the dance community on Friday, announcing that the company would close in June at the end of its 2015 season. Were you planning to attend the Cedar Lake 180 summer intensive? It’s canceled. Hopefully you bought travel insurance for your plane tickets because the upcoming March 27 and 28 company auditions are canceled too.
Cedar Lake was founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie, a Walmart heiress, and offered a prime contract to its dancers: 52 weeks of paid work along with health and dental insurance. The company was known for introducing European choreographers to U.S. audiences and pushing the limits of what seems physically possible onstage. There was a hiccup in 2013, when founding artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer left the company, but things seemed back on track by 2014 when Cedar Lake had appointed former ballet mistress Alexandra Damiani as artistic director. Thanks to its top-notch dancers and choreographers, Cedar Lake has long been at the forefront of what’s proven to be a very popular European aesthetic in contemporary dance. So why did things fall apart?
Pouffer’s exit in 2013 hints that there might have been tension between the artistic and executive branches of the company. The Observer and the New York Times both noted that the company suffered from labor disputes and unusual labor practices, like fining dancers who were late to class or who made mistakes during a performance.
Regardless of the way it treated its dancers, Cedar Lake was still a dream company for many students who were drawn to the troupe’s mixed genres and styles. Once the company is gone there will be a gaping hole in the NYC and U.S. contemporary dance scenes—not to mention dozens of performers and administrators out of work and thousands of audience members who won’t get to have their lives touched by spectacular dance. It seems like the single-patron model, no matter how extraordinarily wealthy that patron is, won’t last forever. RIP Cedar Lake.