Interview: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet's Ebony Williams

Thursday 26 September 2013

Ebony Williams. Photo: Jane Hobson

Alongside dancing with New York based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet for ten years, Ebony Williams has also worked as a commercial dancer – she appears alongside Beyoncé in her Single Ladies video. We caught up with her as the company arrive in London for performances at Sadler’s Wells this weekend…

How did you first discover dance?
I literally walked at 6 months and dance soon followed. Anytime music would play I just couldn’t sit still. I would watch Michael Jackson and try to imitate him.

When did you decide dancing was going to be your career?
After attempting to give up dance for six years and become a physical therapist, I realized that it was something that I couldn’t live without. So, at 19 I enrolled at the Boston Conservatory. It was the official beginning of my obsession for dance! Although I’m a firm believer that I didn’t choose to dance, dance chose me!

You’ve danced with Cedar Lake for 10 years, almost since the company was founded. What have been your highlights in that time?
After such a long time with Cedar Lake occasionally I think back and realize that I really grew up here. I started as a very inexperienced young dancer at times only coming out in the finale of a piece. They say it takes a choreographer to come in and realize your potential and give you a big break, for me that was Jacopo Godani in (Symptoms of Development). It gave me the confidence I needed to put my best foot forward for the next choreographer who came in. Following him Ohad Naharin was amazing, I even had to learn to walk on stilts for his piece. So much fun! Working with Crystal Pite has also been a great highlight. Ten Duets in a Theme of Rescue will never get old for me.

You’re known, not only for dancing with Cedar Lake, but also for appearing in one of the most iconic music videos of all time, Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. How did you get to work with Beyoncé?
I work with an agency in New York that sends me out on auditions. I got the call for a Beyoncé video audition and of course I just couldn’t miss it. I went at least 45 minutes late to the audition and had to pick up the choreography quickly because everyone else already knew it. I did, and got the job!

You work regularly as a commercial dancer, and also full time with Cedar Lake, dancing works by some of the most in demand contemporary dance makers in the world. How do you balance the two different styles?
I consider myself to be a dancer in every sense of the word. I couldn’t see myself only doing commercial styled dance or only contemporary. I need it all to be completely fulfilled. That’s why I appreciate the journey that I’ve been on. I’ve been lucky to work for people that really understand that. With our schedule at Cedar Lake I would work from 10am until 6pm and run to work with Beyoncé after until 10pm or even midnight. At times I’d wish that I could split myself down the middle and be in two places at once because they truly are both a part of me. I worked hard to train myself in my classical and contemporary technique. Commercial styled dance like hip-hop and video dance came more natural. I just needed a little coaching on how to use my face and understanding my angles for the camera.

Is there anything about coming to London that you’re particularly excited about?
The last time Cedar Lake came to London I didn’t get much time off to roam around the city and see the sights. This time I’ve prepared myself with an itinerary that includes shopping, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and hopefully Big Ben! London here I come!

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, 27 & 28 September UK tour until 19 October

Photo: Jane Hobson

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