27 May 2014

“I cannot breathe without dance”, Lua Shayenne talks cos.mo.pol.i.tan

With the opening just days away now, I spoke with Lua about the World Premiere of cos.mo.pol.i.tan, a DANCEWORKS CoWorks Series Event and part of NextSteps 2013/14 at Harbourfront Centre’s Studio Theatre May 29 to 31, 2014.

With familiar names like Natasha Phanor and Esie Mensah on board for this production, I am intrigued to see her work and learn some more about her style.

Born in Ivory Coast to an Italian father and Ghanaian mother, her ancestry spans two continents. Her work is “based on telling the story that has a universal theme, everyone can associate themselves to, and find their own story in my own story”.

Her mom told her she was dancing as a 9-month-old. “I have a passion for creating and making things. When I was a baby I used to take paper and make things. I could never sit quietly.”

Lua is a graduate of Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts, and a past participant of COBA’s apprenticeship program. “It was a fluid process,” Shayenne says, transitioning from being in an apprenticeship program at COBA and working with a traditional African group, to starting a Collective, where she “fell into the admin side of things as well, and enjoyed it”.

“When the collective ended it was clear I wanted to run my own company”, which she did in 2011. “I like being in charge, it’s a lot of work to do grants, schedules, etc, but the part I discovered I love the most is choreography”.

One of her company’s first performances was at the annual festival Afrofest. “I was scared at first. It took me 4 months to tell myself I was a company, I held back a little bit, but it’s the urge that I could not resist”. Since then she has been carving out her place in Toronto as a choreographer/producer.

“Few people can do traditional African dance, because there are no regular classes at a high professional level that people can take”. There is no formal audition process for selecting dancers for her company. “So far I have been hiring dancers based on word of mouth. Attitude is the main selection criteria for the dancers, I like humble hard working people who are open to the creative process”.

As a dancer, she has built her knowledge on different dance techniques by attending various workshops. When asked which dancers she would love to work with in the future, two names quickly pop up. Bill T. Jones whose “dancers are at another level” and Fara Tolno born in Guinea, who is now based in Colorado. “His approach to traditional dance is very avant-garde. He did some workshops for us, and I love working with him”.

In her 3rd and possibly her most personal production, Lua explores the issues around being an immigrant in Canada, interpreting it through the medium of African Dance.

The name of this year's production is actually the phonetic description found in the dictionary. “I chose that specific writing because I didn’t want people to confuse it with the (popular) drink. It’s interesting to me, a lot of people don’t know what it (cosmopolitan) means”.

Canada, and more so Toronto, is a ripe city for people to pick immigrant experiences to draw on. Lua digs even deeper; researching and reading comprehensively about the immigration system, and talking to people about their stories. “Canada is in a unique position, where it accepts people to come in from other countries, people who are very diverse”. It’s the main reason Lua wanted to dedicate a piece to this topic. “I think it is a huge story for Canada and it’s important to talk about it in a healthy way”.

Landed Immigrant revolves around our identity and multiculturalism, “And touches on moments and instances where people can say ‘I can relate to this’...It won’t be exactly the same for everyone, but I think it will start a discussion”.

In Hybrid, a collaboration with visual art collective 3MW Collective, the piece explores identity through a fast-growing multiracial and multicultural prism.

“In dance 30 seconds is a long time, so you can imagine the process of creating a 35-minute piece”. Her creative process is lengthy. “When I get into the studio, it looks like having little pieces of paper, like pieces of a puzzle, and I choreograph these little pockets of the story.”

People can connect with Lua Shayenne via her website www.luashayenne.com. “On my website, they will find everything, email, Twitter, Facebook and excerpts of what the shows looks like”. 

cos.mo.pol.i.tan | May 29 - 31, 2014 | Studio Theatre | Harbourfront Centre Toronto, 235 QUEENS QUAY W.
Performances: May 29, 30 & 31 at 8 PM | Tickets: $25 in advance | $30 at the door | Groups of 5 - $100 package

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