A Historic Space Sets the Scene for One Creative Dance Troupe

The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet designs an intimate evening inspired by a rustic space

The Cedar Lake dancers perform on a central round stage surrounded by the audience. 
The Cedar Lake dancers perform on a central round stage surrounded by the audience. 
Photos © Carolyn Veith Krienke/Lonny

Nestled among the minimalist galleries of New York City’s Chelsea district, the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is housed in a rustic 1920s garage that once served as photographer Annie Leibovitz's studio. Founded in 2002, the performance venue features some of the world’s most accomplished choreographers—and a sampling of the city's most inventive sets. We caught up with artistic director Alexandria Damiani post show, where she generously shared some of her thoughts on how the space inspires her work.

The Brooklyn string duo, Charly and Margaux (also known as Chargaux), wove their melodic sounds around Jasper Gahunia's original score.
The Brooklyn string duo, Charly and Margaux (also known as Chargaux), wove their melodic sounds around Jasper Gahunia's original score.

1. During the performance I was drawn to the use of circles: the round stage, the spotlights. Was this defined by the space at hand?
​I love circles! The circular elements to the piece were intentional. I have always thought that a dance performance was a ritual. With this dance installation, I wanted to go even deeper into the idea of dance as a ceremony—audience and dancers taking part in the experience.

2. Can you elaborate on how you and your dancers decided to add the wall to your piece?
The use of the wall first came to me as an easy way to create height. I wanted at some point in the piece to elevate some of the dancers, who then would be able to be seen by everyone in the audience. Then I thought of a hollow wall under the platform that would make sound when hit by the dancers, adding a tribal and powerful element to the evening.

Pendant lights and pedestals gave freedom of movement to dancer and viewer alike.
Pendant lights and pedestals gave freedom of movement to dancer and viewer alike.
Cedar Lake Ballet

3. I love the stringed pendant lights over the pedestals. What inspired them?
​I had already used some hanging light bulbs in a previous piece and loved the intimacy they brought to the room. This time, I was interested in creating two zones in the space that would allow the dancers to express themselves freely, a loose take on "confessionals."​ ​ The pendant lights helped me to delineate these "safe zones." The circular composition of the light bulbs was of course an echo of the circular stage. I liked also the idea of a  halo on top of the dancer when standing on the pedestal.​

4. Any other thoughts on the use of interior elements and lighting during the piece (ladders, windows, etc.)?
It was very important to me to use the building as much as possible and highlight its architecture. The parts that we usually try to hide during a performance were shown and lit. The grids holding the lights were lowered and angled to bring out the ceiling and the beams and add more dimensions to the space. The lowered grid also added a sense of pressure, bringing even more urgency to the dance happening under it.

Dancers and musicians gather under Nicholas Houfek's intimate lighting.
Dancers and musicians gather under Nicholas Houfek's intimate lighting.

The Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will depart March 6th for their international tour, which includes performances in Australia, New Zealand, and Boston, before returning to NYC June 3-6th at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

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