Peter London, Founder and Artistic Director of Peter London Global Dance Company

Miami Dances features insight into traditional and nontraditional dance programs, performers and choreographers that make Miami’s dance scene special. In this post we feature, Peter London, founder/artistic director of Peter London Global Dance Company. For the past five years, the company has performed throughout South Florida, presenting thought-provoking choreography. They also give back to the community, providing educational outreach programs that include classes, lectures and demonstrations.

London graduated with honors from The Julliard School, and is currently a professor of dance at Miami-Dade College / New World School of the Arts. He serves an active mentor to principal dancer Jamar Roberts of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Lloyd Knight and Mariya Dashkina Maddux of the historic Martha Graham Dance Company and La Michael Leonard of New York City’s Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company. Through a $100,000 gift from the former Honorary Consul of Romania, Victoria London, the company was able to commission 12 South Florida choreographers, working internationally for their Miami Choreographers Showcase. The showcase is part of their residency at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

ABC: Tell us about your journey as an artist/dancer with your own company?

PL: In 2010 my company was born out of a desire to have a dance company that produced work of diverse cultures. Some of my students wanted a professional dance company like those of Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. After many years of saying no to the idea, I finally decided to go for it in spite of lack of funds. In 2011 my company received a Knight Arts Challenge Grant for $120,000 to establish it as a viable organization. With support from friends, state and local grants, private funding and donors, the company is celebrating its fifth anniversary. We have worked diligently to produce good work and have been rewarded with arts partnerships and residencies at the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Miramar Cultural Center, The Betsy Hotel on South Beach and annual performances for the City of Coral Gables and City of Miami Beach.

 

 Dancer Alejandra Martinez. Photo by Gregory Reed

ABC: Tell us about Peter London Global Dance Company

PL: Our mission is to provide a home for gifted underserved dancers, choreographers, technicians and designers, who have not traditionally had the opportunity to practice their art professionally. Our company is a platform for South Florida dancers and choreographers who have left home to seek professional opportunities elsewhere, but still call South Florida home. They seek to give back to their community through educational outreach through classes, lectures, demonstrations and performances throughout our community. PLGDC works on a project by project basis and employs between 7 and 14 local dancers that are trained in advanced modern and contemporary dance techniques, ballet and Afro-Caribbean. Our dancers are also versed in Jazz, Hip Hop, Acrobat and Latin. Our versatile group of American dancers and choreographers hail from Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Colombia, Cuba and China. They give the company its unique Miami flavor of Ashe and duende, an incomparable spiritual force of power in their choreography and performances. Like our artists, our board and staff reflect the multicultural make up of our community.

Much of the support for our company is from grassroots love by locals who passionately believe that our young artists deserve and need to have a voice in the expression and development of our vibrant cultural heritage. In Miami, dance and music play a vital communicative role about who people are, where they came from, where they are going, and this powerful form has its origins in Africa and is rooted in Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Jamaica, Cariacou, Martinique, Trinidad & Tobago and elsewhere. All this can also be seen in our company’s choreography and performances. The Orishas and Loas are on the stage performing for you.

ABC: Who was your biggest influence in your journey to having your own company?

PL: At age 19 I was honored to become the dance director of a local dance group. As the resident choreographer, I felt the need to explore the development of folk dance as a contemporary language which would become the roots of my dance company. That desire led me to Juilliard, The Alvin Ailey Dance School, The Martha Graham School and company and the Jose Limon Dance Company. After two decades of learning about modern dance through technical training and performing in almost every major city in Europe, Asia, South America, Canada and the US, it was time to move on to the dream of creating my own dance company.

In 1981, I had the great fortune of seeing an AILEY II performance in Trinidad and saw how Alvin Ailey used jazz in a contemporary form in ballets like ” Phases,” “Blues Suite” and Afro Caribbean/Brazilian dance forms in aspects of his masterpiece, “Revelations.” The late Astor Johnson was the founder of his Repertory Dance Theater of Trinidad & Tobago of which I was a member and one of his protégés. Astor’s company was a place that we could call home, a family, and in spite of the incessant hardships financially, there was a great sense of pride that this was “our thing.” You were immediately given ownership on becoming a member, no one was allowed to lord it over anyone, in fact, the elder dancers were expected to look out for the new ones, and take care of each other. I felt safe and cared for, respected, loved, supported and honored. Astor, in my opinion led a rebel group of gifted young dancers who were welcome regardless of race, creed and class. The wealthy ballerinas stepped right in and stood alongside the boys from the hills; your family background, class, status, was not to be an impediment to the honor of hard work and the respect and care for each other.

ABC: What excites you about Miami?

PL: Miami reminds me of Trinidad & Tobago; the weather and the many waterways for OSHUN and YEMANJA. I love the sun, water and trade winds that soothes the soul. It’s access to a multicultural population that knows people who know Yanvaloo and Callaoo, Kaiso, Reggae, Rumba and Banda. The children of abuelas y abuelos who know how to dance the dances of their people, even though they were not born in Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Colombia, Cariacou, Grenada, St. Vincent, St, Croix ,Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts/Nevis Argentina, Mexico or in Mississippi, New Orleans, or Chicago.

 

Peter London Photo by Carlos Valdiviezo

ABC: What is something awesome you are currently working on?

PL: Only the audience could tell if it is awesome, but what I can say is that as part of our mission, I have commissioned several of my former students now performing in top dance companies around the world, to create and perform sections of Sergei Rachmaninoff Concerto #2 in C Minor, Opus 18 and also taking on Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The world premiere of these two dances will be performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center on December 29-31.

ABC: From your perspective, how can we leverage the arts to build a more connected community?

PL: Include arts not just in traditional places, but take it to the people from whence it came; the ball game, the atrium of an office complex, hospital, medical center, shopping mall. I see so many great performance opportunities and spaces in the incredible architecture springing up all over the city. Certainly in areas that can come alive with just a little bit of art in places like Overtown and Liberty City. Why not have a dance performance at a meeting. Creativity attracts creativity. Many of the students that I have taught since age eight have all gone on to major schools of higher education, including to the top Ivy league schools in the country. Many now dance in major dance companies all over the world. Certainly, experiencing some of this spiritual power at a meeting, before, during or after work, should not go unexplored. What are we afraid of?

Nonetheless, Miami is doing great things, with plans for more. The Knight Foundation and the cultural arts departments of Miami-Dade and cities of Coral Gables, North Miami, Miami Beach and Miami are increasing their time, talent and treasure in support of local arts organizations where they reside. These activities build more connected communities like the cross cultural events at Perez Art Museum, South Miami Dade Performing Arts Center, The Betsy Hotel, Little Haiti Cultural Complex and the Adrienne Arsht Center. The leaders of these organizations understand the importance of connecting communities and are in communication with each other.

Miami-Dade College where I work and have the pleasure of serving on the Hispanic Heritage and Black History Month Committees produce excellent campus wide, cross cultural events that include many local arts organizations and student groups during these celebrations. The Miami-Dade College Book Fair International, International Film Festival and other vitally important art series are all part of the leveraging that is taking place, and more is to come. The Arsht Center recently launched a program to bring thousands of school age students there, not only to be entertained but to be educated about the arts. The Arts and Business Council of Miami does a fantastic job in bringing business and arts leaders together in finding ways to support each other’s vision and build a more advanced and artistically-educated community. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is promoting cultural tourism and drawing attention to Miami as an artistic hot spot for our visitors.

It has been a heavenly experience working with the people at all those venues. I guess I have been fortunate, but I believe it requires brutal work with at most two to three hours of sleep per night and no vacation. My dancers work more than one job to make their artistic work with my company possible. I am certain that their sleep time is along the lines of my own, but you would never know it when you see them on stage performing for you.

In addition, our company gives annual pro bono performances to children in underserved communities, like two performances this summer at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. We presented a performance, lecture, demonstration and Q&A with the kids from City of Miami Gardens. We also presented programs at the African Heritage Cultural Center in Liberty City, as well as at family events at the Coral Gables Museum and Lowe Art Museum. Up next will be a show Oct. 21 for the kids who attend our educational program at the Miramar Cultural Arts Center.In the near future, we hope to include performances in more local cities and throughout the US and internationally.

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