Dance TO Showcase Feature #1: The Effervescent Lua Shayenne

Dance TO Showcase is a group of six Toronto presenters who wanted to create events, performances and chances for Toronto dance artists to come together during an exceedingly exciting and busy time Sept 28-Oct 3, 2015. In the flurry of national and international activity through a new festival, conferences and auxiliary events,  the Dance TO Showcase wants to celebrate the dance talent that's right here in Toronto.

You may have seen our first interviewee's company recently in Dusk Dances: Lua Shayenne's work is bright, optimistic, engaging and unwavering....just like Lua. In the spirit of the Dance TO Showcase purpose, I asked her some questions about inspiration, staying inspired, how we can grow artistically and professionally and most importantly about the art itself. I tried to replicate these questions for all the interviewees to follow, as a way for us to compile and compound our ideas and dreams.

I thank Lua deeply for being the first to plunge in.

Lucy: What inspired you to start your own company and make your own work?

LUA: It was a natural evolution into creation. There wasn’t an outlet to do the kind of work I wanted so I decided to be my own incubator. I started two collectives with other dancers in the city and then finally went solo when I was clear about which path I wanted to pursue and what my mandate was.

Lucy: What is your background in dance/theatre or training? What do you consider the significant milestones, touchstones or people for you along the way?

LUA:  went to Randolph Academy to the Performing Arts - a musical theatre focused program (dance, theatre, singing) - and did my apprenticeship at COBA. The rest of my training has occurred as professional development in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa and France.

Touchstones include studying with South African choreographer/dancer Vincent Mantsoe in France and being part Crossings #3 in South Africa where I had the amazing opportunity to work with dancers from all over the world.

Lucy: Can you tell me a bit about what you’ll be showcasing in Dance TO Showcase?

LUA: I will be presenting an excerpt of Woman’s Whisper | Murmure de Femme.

Woman’s Whisper is an ode to femininity. The piece highlights the different facets of the feminine spirit in relationship to Mother Earth. In many traditional African cultures human beings were partially molded out of clay. The Earth was revered and personalized as Mother/Provider of sustenance. Asase Efua is her name among the Fanti (my ancestry on my mother’s side - Ghana,West Africa). Any offence against Her could lead to fatal consequences. 

My interest lies in our current relationship to Earth as Nurturer, Guide, Provider and the effect of our increasing disconnection to Her/It. The piece flows between the human, the elemental and the ethereal and lets the audience derive its own interpretation.

The score is live drumming. The movement vocabulary is based in traditional West African dance (Guinea specifically) but set outside of its usual traditional cultural context, ie Yankadi is a courting dance performed as such. I am pushing the boundaries of tradition with my need to create original and current content.

Lucy: What do you enjoy most about taking part in Dusk Dances or other outdoor, site specific situations?

LUA: I like taking on the challenge of adapting to the environment in which a piece is going to be performed while staying true to its emotional arch or journey and keeping the strong physicality I demand.

Lucy: What do you think dance artists can do to improve the health of the Toronto dance community? I'm not saying it’s ailing necessarily, but how can we get better and even better?

LUA: I think there needs to be a greater openness to and a better understanding of culturally diverse forms of dance in this city, whether in their traditional or contemporary forms. The scene is very much Eurocentric and places ballet or contemporary on a higher pedestal. 

Even reviewers or critics aren’t familiar with culturally diverse forms of dance and don’t represent that diversity. This is reflected in all dance programs. There is no dance program in this city that offers any culturally diverse dance. It’s always ballet, jazz, contemporary - Eurocentric for the most part, tap and hip-hop.

Perhaps we can learn from the dance programs in the US.

The presence of solely 2 dance presenters in the city is not healthy either. It leaves companies, dancers with the only option to self-present. Theatre rental prices are definitely not artist-friendly either.

Lucy: Can you tell me about one performance that was game-changing — personally or artistically — for you? I mean specifically a work that you were an audience for, rather than performing in…who was it? where, when, why was it so impactful.

LUA: I love Hofesh Shechter Company’s work. I was also truly inspired by Kahawi’s Susuriwka – willow bridge and William Wong’s VOX:LUMEN.

Come see Lua's ideas in motion
Tuesday September 29th 12:45 pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
free admission for professional dance artists

Full showcase schedule here:!showcase-performances/c1k8z
More info on Dance To Showcase events:

all photos courtesy of the artist.


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