Afro-Caribbean folklore entered Peter London’s soul at age six, and never left.
In the hilly Trinidadian countryside, the then-youngster would take part in religious ceremonies often led by his family members, who were strong keepers of the Yoruba-derived faith and drumming. From there, his love for dance sprouted into classical dance that led him to New York, where he would become one of the most sought after dancers for such power houses as Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey and José Limón.
In his early 20s, the fresh out of Trinidad dancer had all three dance legends tugging at him. But it was seeing a highly intense Martha Graham performance that made the deepest impression and won him over. The colorful, highly physical repertoire was reminiscent, London says, of Orisha dance rituals back in the islands. However, prior to leaving Trinidad, London set a long-term goal to start his own dance company that would blend the classical with the folklore. The internationally renowned dancer and choreographer and New World School of the Arts professor fulfilled his dream of starting a company in 2011, after receiving a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Today, the mix of classical ballet, modern dance and Afro-Caribbean folkloric movement and music are the mainstay of the Peter London Global Dance Company (PLGDC). The ensemble will have two performances this Sunday as part of its Spring Showcase at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, where London is an artist in residence. London promises that the company will deliver its signature energetic repertoire. “The Spring Dance Showcase realizes the mission of my company in a way that is bold, large, passionate and honors the diverse heritage of South Florida and America,” says London. “It is with the exceptional and disciplined hard work of the young dancers and choreographers that makes the dream a reality.”
One of his most striking and soul-stirring choreographies is Stand, which is based on women living in war-torn conditions and was conceived after London heard the news of Haitian women and girls being raped in displacement camps after the 2010 earthquake. The costumes for Stand are made from shredded newspaper.
Among the new ballets are Carmen, which is based on the story of Bizet’s Opera’s but danced to fiery Flamenco music; The Secret, inspired by the Griot music of Mali; and Rain and Wings, inspired by Native American music created for Sasha Caicedo Paolo, a PLGDC guest performer.
The showcase will give concertgoers a feast of world-class contemporary dance talent, both home-grown and national. The showcase will feature two soloists from the Martha Graham Dance Company: Lloyd Knight and Mariya Dashkina Maddux, who will perform the renowned Graham duet Conversation of Lovers. The program will also include a premiere by PLGDC Artist Associate and South Floridian La Michael Leonard, principal dancer for Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
London’s company is primarily made up of current and past students of the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, where he has taught dance for over two decades and helped students form their careers with top companies. Alvin Ailey Director Robert Battle and the company’s principal dancer, Jamar Roberts, are among the dance notables who’ve come under London’s tutelage as teens.
London’s rise to dance stardom is the stuff made for novels. He still remembers the day that Graham invited him to her private vestibule and asked him to join her company; and the day Alvin Ailey gave him a full scholarship that allowed London to train at the school at his leisure. Not to mention touring with Limón. In spite of his long and illustrious career, London finds that living and teaching in Miami keeps him culturally inspired. “Miami is the doorway into Europe and the Caribbean. Every island and every country in South America is here — smack dead in Miami,” says London.
Given South Florida’s diversity, his students at New World and his company’s dancers readily embrace the cultural themes of his choreographies. “They are coming from Caribbean parents. It’s just a natural fit,” said London, adding that “they are so happy to have someone at New World to relate to their family heritage.”
Peter London’s “Spring Showcase” will feature two shows at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Sunday at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 N.E. 59th Terr., Miami; the 1:30 p.m. performance is free, general admission tickets to the 7:30 p.m. costs $35.00. VIP tickets are also on sale for $100.00; www.miamifoundation.org.
This preview also appears on the Miami New Times website.