Women have always had a strong influence on Peter London’s life. He was raised by six women in his hometown of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. His teachers and the spiritual leaders of his "neighborhood hamlet" of Laventille were all women.
Arriving to the Juilliard School in New York for dance, again, he had women who impacted his studies: his main teacher, Pearl Lang, Alvin Ailey school director, Denise Jefferson, Graham dancer, instructor, and choreographer, Yuriko, instructor, Ethel Winter, director, Linda Hodes (whom he calls his Savior Angel), and the iconic Martha Graham, whose work and dance ethic he fell in love with. The list goes on and reads like a "who’s who" of impactful female dance legends.
London spent his early years in New York studying and performing throughout the world with the Graham Company -and being nurtured by women. While the dance world is starting to evolve, typically, choreographers and directors have been men. Impacted by the women in his life, London felt a responsibility to honor and pay tribute to women in dance and nurture their work.
Now in its seventh season (after two years lost to Covid) Peter London Global Dance (PLGD) presents “Women’s Choreographic Voices: The Rising” on Saturday, April 1 at the Sanctuary of the Arts in Coral Gables.
“I created 'Women’s Choreographic Voices' specifically to give women choreographers a chance to tell their stories, to let them find their own music and composers,” says London. “I wondered what was going to happen to all these young women I had been teaching, what’s going to happen to their voices.”
London explains that where he came from, the stories were told by the grandmothers who were considered to be the keepers of the race. The grandmothers knew all the stories and passed them down.
London’s process to engage the choreographers is a simple one.
Initially, he gives parameters for choreography — an idea or an emotional structure, but that is about it. He does not want to be hands on with the choreography or try to push the creators into a box.
“I give them an idea of the concept of the program, and then I pull away,” he says.
Saturday evening’s performance will have world premiers by choreographers Kashia Kancey and Brooke Skye Logan. Melissa Verdecia will revise “Que Se Enquentra Los Arabales” an early work she created for PLGD.
London has impacted each of the female choreographers in various ways.
Kancey, speaking from New York, grew up in Overtown and attended New World School of the Arts for both high school and college. London was her Graham teacher (Martha Graham’s technique for training dancers) starting in high school. A piece of Kancey’s choreography in high school was noted by London. It wasn’t until she was a sophomore in college that London asked her to recreate the earlier work — only now it was for his professional company.
Kancey says she wants to continue "chasing the dream" of dance and choreography. A working artist, she is creating the duet for “The Rising” she is performing extensively, holding residencies centered around her choreography and is in the process of creating her own solo.
For her new work, Kancey initially started working on Zoom.
“I was inspired by the two dancers I’m working with,” says Kancey. “Initially, I wasn’t going to do a duet, but something about working on zoom made me want to do a smaller piece. And these two dancers (TtShaylah Lightbourn and Clinton Harris) have this chemistry that is super playful, but can also become very intimate and deep.”
After watching the duo improv movement, Kancey started seeing hearts and souls emerging.
“It’s like a conversation of movement,” she says. “Two hearts and two souls. They get torn apart and then come back together. It’s feeling how connected you can be without having physical contact.”
The piece is appropriately called “Merged” with an original score by NWSA alum, Cristina Moya-Palacios.
Kancey, who is now swaying and waving her arms (as dancers do) says the score is "etherial, atmospheric, maybe a little spacey, with lots of room for movement. I hope the audience sees vulnerability and honesty — I don’t want it to feel performative.”
Brooke Skye Logan from Pinecrest and a NWSA graduate, is the current high school dance teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High. Prior to the pandemic, she was rehearsal director for former Ailey dancer, now choreographer, Jamar Roberts whom she had known since she was a young dance student. Skye Logan dances and choreographs in the Miami dance community.
“Peter (London) was my dance teacher for Graham when I was ten,” she says. “And then at New World, he was one of my instructors.”
She has worked as a choreographer with London in the past creating solo work. This is her first time choreographing an ensemble piece on PLGD.
The piece is called “Wild Flowers Luminous Prayer.”
“I wanted to create almost the aesthetic of a children’s book,” says Skye Logan.
During the pandemic, Skye Logan met composer, Ari Urban, at a showing of a video work Skye Logan had created.
“Urban said she wanted to work with me and we exchanged contact info. Her music is so beautiful and I knew when I created a group piece, I wanted to work with her,” recalls Skye Logan.
In describing her piece, Skye Logan unexpectedly says, “I love my grandmother. She is the one in my life that I feel has really affected me. I was describing this new work to her and she said ‘Oh I get it. Wouldn’t it be so lovely if we all just fell in love with humanity.' ”
And that is what Skye Logan thinks is the best description of her piece.
Choreographer, Melissa Verdecia explains that London wanted to revive a piece that she had done for PLGD in 2015. She was dancing with New York’s Ballet Hispanico, at the time, and the idea of choreographing her first piece for London was an exciting one.
It was London, Verdecia’s instructor and mentor at NWSA, along with Daniel Lewis, dean of dance at the school, who encouraged her to audition for Juilliard and to pursue a dancing career. Both of which came to fruition.
Now, revisiting the piece, after having choreographed six works for London, she finds it nostalgic and rather interesting to look back at her earlier work to see where her choreographic and artistic mind was at the time.
She recalls doing much research about the origins of Argentinian tango. Of how it initially was danced by two men and was a way to show your masculinity with a sense of dominance. Of how it evolved through European influence to have a more refined quality.
She realized that her aim in choreographing this piece was not to duplicate tango in its authentic form, but to understand what people were going through in discovering this tango dance style and to use her own style and movement ability in conjunction with the dancers to create a narrative of sorts.
“I think with age and maturity, there are things that I see differently now and want to change or rework,” Verdecia says. “It is also a completely different cast of dancers. In fact, one woman is doing a male part, so the dynamics will change.”
“I hope this piece gives the audience a sense of what life was like for these everyday people. These hard working people who used dance to diffuse tensions. There is no narrative, but I think they will get the feeling.”
Verdecia says that a program of female choreographers is especially poignant in Miami, where we want to promote the arts - and even more so to highlight female voices that have a lot to say and are as creative and innovative as any male choreographer.
Augmenting the program are “Calle Florida” choreographed by London and inspired by the famous and fashionable street Calle Florida in Buenos Aires, a contemporary styled Tango duet choreographed by Armando Gonzalez, entitled “Steppe Tango,” “Prayer One” inspired by the powerful voice and music (Gracias a La Vida) of Chilean artist, Mercedes Sosa and danced by Chilean artist Camilo Toro and “Kaiso Bacchanal,” an explosion of Afro Caribbean and Contemporary technique, choreographed by Peter London and danced by the entire company.
Skye Logan sums up the program saying,“Women can be very strong while being very soft. It’s so important that everyone has a voice, to see the differences, the opposition or coincidences.”
Verdecia adds, “Ultimately, dance is universal and no matter where you come from, it can bring us together.”
"Women's Choreographic Voices: The Rising," 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 1, The Sanctuary of the Arts, 410 Andalusia Ave, Coral Gables, Tickets $25. Info: (786) 362 5132 or for tickets, click here.