This Art Lives Here coordinator had a great opportunity peek in to the inner workings of Lesole’s Dance Project and see how they are putting together their programming for Better Block Night. Check out this interview with the masterminds behind this incredible local group and see how they do creative placemaking every day in Mount Rainier, MD.
What is Lesole’s Dance Project?
We are Lesole’s Dance Project (LDP), a professional dance company grounded in Southern African heritage who uses innovative choreography and an indigenous/contemporary movement vernacular to engage cultural exchange through touring, education and performance. The company has performed nationally at the National Museum of African Art in Philadelphia, Cincinnati Playhouse in Ohio, Michigan State University, and The Harris Theater-Dance Africa Chicago and in the Washington DC area at Dance Africa DC-Dance Place, University of Maryland, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Internationally, the company has toured the Tarapacá region of Chile, presented by Dance-Forms Productions 64th Annual International Choreographer’s Showcase.
LDP has been improving economically challenged communities across the globe by supporting youth development through the arts. In August 2009, LDP launched its International Edudance Program in the townships of Sebokeng, South Africa. Over the past two years, through our generous volunteers, donors, and sponsors, we provided scholarships to more than 50 at-risk students at elementary schools in the DC Metro area at no cost. These students were able to engage in cultural exchange after-school program activities and increase awareness of dance as a vital educational tool available to everyone.
What will LDP be doing on Better Block Night?
We will be presenting Revolutions! a community engagement public performance experience that activates the Mount Rainier Roundabout at Rhode Island Ave, Perry St. and 34th St. through MUSIC, DANCE and DRUMMING. The six public space enclaves connected by crosswalks and surrounding the roundabout, will be populated with artists, drummers and dancers who will perform call and response rituals throughout the 6 – 9 pm Better Blocks Project. Revolutions culminates with a moving story, a public procession twice circumnavigating the Mount Rainier Roundabout that evening leading to a dance party @ Ubuntu Nankama Studios at 3802 & 3804 34th St. right off the circle.
Our main activities are:
- Public dancing and drumming around the traffic circle
- Transform our Ubuntu Nankama studio store front windows into gallery showcases.
- FREE dance & drumming workshops at 6:30 and 7:15 and an 8:00pm “Rehearsal”
- 8:30pm activate Mt. Rainier Traffic Circle with Community Dancing, Drumming & Music.
- Document the experience with video and new media for interactive storytelling.
What drew LDP to Art Lives Here?
The freedom of the idea really, the challenge to us was what can we do with what we have right now to create something in the built environment and that was fun. We asked ourselves what does it mean to be a Southern African Dance company that explores black culture in Mount Rainier, in the the Gateway Arts District. We’ve been here for 10 years working in the schools and public performances but we really wanted to do something about where we are right now as a company and physically where we work. And we wanted to get to know our neighbors. So we took a look around us and the traffic circle just seemed obvious. We did some research and saw that Rhode Island Avenue U.S. Route 1 (US 1) is the easternmost and longest of the major north–south routes of the United States Numbered Highway System, running from Key West, Florida to Fort Kent, Maine. When the streetcars were running there was the District Line Station at Rhode Island and 34th St. This location has been a corridor of stories and passengers for long time and we wanted to tap into that with our own stories and to encourage our neighbors to tell their stories as well.
We thought, what would happen if people would walk or dance around the “traffic” circle if they didn’t have to BE somewhere. When people meet in a circle, everyone occupies a front-seat and everything is interconnected. In In African traditions the “Ring Shout” is a sacred ritual that combines singing with rhythmic shuffle – dancing performed in a counterclockwise-moving circle, in which the participants call to the ancestors for guidance and appeal for open communication within the community.
And a Roundabout is a traditional European design of a circular intersection in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. In traditional African culture and spirituality, the image of the circle is a prominent feature that permeates all departments of life. The circle is also a symbol of inclusion and interconnectedness with all creation and the completion of a circle is a Revolution. So in creating Revolutions! we hope to inspire a meditation on what it means to come full circle as a community.We want to have a call and response rapport with our people.
We also wanted to play with the concept of the word “revolution.” It has become almost a parlor game in African American culture to come with the next catch phrase riffing off the Gil Scott Herron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Yes we tried, the closest we got was Revolutions! will be Dancified. Not gonna work. Maybe we should crowd source it.
What does creative placemaking mean to LDP?
According to the US Census, Mount Rainier has an African American population of 62% and with the establishment the Gateway Arts District as a destination for artists to work and live, history and experience indicate gentrification tensions may arise. With Revolutions!, LDP strives to juxtapose this function of cultural transmission, of European design and African ritual, creating a dynamic exchange opportunity where neighbors and business owners, artists and everyday people can engage to define a community’s identity and sense of place. Public congregation has served as a vital cultural rite and civil right in the lives of people of for centuries. Social interaction and en-masse collaboration in the production of music, song and dance provides a means for the purging of cultural barriers. There is no doubt that when the individual body joins a multitude of other individual bodies to form a collective body, an increase in some kind of power happens. The Power of Place.
Anything else you want to tell the Gateway Arts District?
Revolutions is conceived in spirit and in scope of strengthening partnerships with Joe’s Movement Emporium and our neighbor Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio. We want to build upon existing community assets in the Gateway Arts District and the Better Block Project’s mission to bring creative energy to the entrance of Mount Rainier; LDP will fertilize existing seeds, sow creative possibilities and encourage greater participation in the local creative economy. Through our creative process we at LDP intend to involve as many local partners as possible and to make relationships that matter.
In using the Mount Rainier Roundabout, we continue what Bus Stop Bangladesh Artist Monica Jahan Bose’s Art Lives Here project did last year, which is to create innovative uses of public spaces that are accessible to everyday people. We hope this a tradition that continues!