Peter London Global Dance Spotlights Women's Choreographic Voices

Peter London Global Dance Company in Melissa Verdecia's "Que se encuentra Los Arrabales."
Peter London Global Dance Company in Melissa Verdecia's "Que se encuentra Los Arrabales." Photo by Gregory Reed
Two themes emerge in Peter London Global Dance Company's "Women's Choreographic Voices: the Rising." They are the celebration of women choreographers, dancers, and performers, and Argentine tango as a medium for expressing creative passions.

On Saturday, April 1, the Sanctuary of the Arts program in Coral Gables spotlights the female artistic spirit with new productions and two world premieres by Peter London Global Dance Company dancers and choreographers Kashia Kancey and Brooke Skye Logan.

A dance professor at New World School of the Arts since the early 1990s, London counts many of the emerging choreographers on the program as former high school or college students from dance programs at New World. Some dancers started training when they were even younger at the Pinecrest dance studio, Dance Empire, where London also taught.

Kancey is a former London student from New World who grew up in Miami's Overtown neighborhood. Her new work "Merged" is a duet featuring Tt'Shaylah Lightbourn and Clinton Harris.

For Kancey, the work is about merging two souls.

"It's about having someone in your life no matter where they are in the world," explains Kancey. "You are both still connected, sensing, and in constant conversation."

Kancey set the choreography to an original composition by former New World college friend Cristina Moya-Palacios. As an artist, Moya-Palacios' training blurs the line between dancer and musician.
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Clinton Harris (left) and Eden Collier rehearse Armando Gonzalez's "Steppe Tango."
Photo by Tt'Shaylah Lightbourne
"My first introduction to music was through piano lessons as a kid," says Moya-Palacios. "As I got older, I eventually became a dancer and continued to be inspired by those lessons and began to explore making scores on [the app] GarageBand."

Another premiere in the program, "Wildflower's Luminous Prayer," was created for the company's ensemble by Logan, a choreographer and former London dance student.

Like "Merged," Logan's new work took inspiration, title, and structure from a new composition by a female composer, violinist Ari Urban. Logan titled the solo first movement "Wildflower" and the second movement "Luminous Prayer."

"This is my first work with the entire company, and I am very excited," says Logan. "There are seven dancers in the group section and a soloist [Leon Cobb] at the beginning of the work."

When asked what motivated the creation, she says it came from reflecting on the question: "How beautiful it would be if we could all just fall in love with humanity?"

Another piece by the choreographer, "Eomeoni," also uses dance to communicate a universal message.

"The title refers to the word 'mother,'" she explains. The Peter London Global Dance Company premiered the work in 2018. "It is one of my most prized works. I would describe this piece as a call to humanity. To see and love one another as [he or she] truly is."

The themes of women and tango intersect in Melissa Verdecia's "Que se encuentra Los Arrabales," a new production of a company work that premiered in 2015. Verdencia, a former student of London's at New World, attended Juilliard and then was a soloist with Ballet Hispánico, based in New York City.

"I was definitely not trying to recreate an authentic tango," Verdecia says of her work, "but use the knowledge that I had learned about the Argentine tango's origins — how it evolved over the decades due to other cultural influences, such as the African dance culture and then [also the] more commonly known European traditions of waltz and polka that eventually led the tango to be commonly known as a ballroom style dance."

When asked how Argentine tango came to figure so prominently in a program celebrating women, London relates his first experiences of Buenos Aires and the energy he felt while touring there.
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Angela Lowe and Heng Seng Tsui dance Melissa Verdecia's "Que se encuentra Los Arrabales."
Photo by Gregory Reed
"I performed in Argentina in 1988 for the first time with José Limón Dance and then again later with Martha Graham Dance," he says. "When José Limón performed in Buenos Aires, they told me to go to Calle Florida (Florida Street). When I stepped onto that street, I was struck by the energy, the dress, the swagger and sophistication, and the cafés — it was just fabulous."

He recalls that he danced tango until 5 a.m. while sweating to the bone.

"I always felt like I needed to express the emotion and the feeling of Buenos Aires of that time in a dance."

London's experiences in Buenos Aires became the stuff of London's own "Calle Florida" — a 2015 piece also on the upcoming program, set to tango music and reprised by dancer Isabelle Vazquez, one of London's former students from New World.

"When I saw her (Vazquez) dancing it for the first time," explains London, "she danced it like she was transported, and the entire room exploded in applause."

The full company will perform London's piece, "Kaiso Bacchanal," with costumes by the choreographer. London describes the work as a colorful explosion of rhythm and fiery movement that brings to life the Carnival celebrations of Trinidad & Tobago.

With so many contributions from former students on the program, it could be expected that London would have deep involvement in their creative process. On the contrary, London insists that after he commissions new work, he takes a strictly hands-off approach.

And for a good reason. London's former students come packed with talent and grace the lineups of the nation's top dance companies, including Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham Dance, Paul Taylor Dance, and Dance Theater of Harlem. They include Robert Battle, current artistic director of Alvin Ailey, and Jamar Roberts, Alvin Ailey's first resident choreographer.
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Peter London Global Dance Company ensemble in Peter London's "Kaiso Bacchanal"
Photo by Gregory Reed
Still, he admits sometimes wanting to become involved while witnessing the twists and turns of their creative processes, although he says he holds back. This was the case in the 2015 "Steppe Tango" by choreographer and dancer Armando Gonzalez, whose piece will be performed in the upcoming program.

Gonzalez started dancing with London at 14 and is now a principal dancer with the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland.

"Armando used Bulgarian Folk music to open the dance, and I thought, Why is he doing that for tango?" says London. "But, I thought, These are young people, and leave them alone."

The outcome was Gonzalez's "Steppe Tango," set to Mongolian throat music and Argentine tango.

Gonzalez, whose mother is Argentine, didn't grow up listening to tango, but he was attracted to the dance form.

"The dance form has always had a special place in my heart. Astor Piazzolla is super danceable," adds Gonzalez referring to the Argentine classical composer (1921-1992) who created compositions that included tango rhythms and iconic instruments like the bandoneón in his works. "There have been countless ballets created to [Piazzolla's] music," continues Gonzalez. "Around the time Peter asked me to choreograph, I was watching a Netflix series set in Mongolia. The throat singing was captivating, so I tried to mix the two and see if it would work... and surprisingly, to my ears, it did."

– Sean Erwin,

Peter London Global Dance Company presents "Women's Choreographic Voices: the Rising." 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Sanctuary of the Arts, 410 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables; 786-362-5132; Tickets cost $25.
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