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Q&A With Peter London

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One has only to speak to Peter London (Diploma ’87, dance) for a moment to sense a dignity in who he is—as a native of Trinidad, a graduate of Juilliard, and a teacher of dance. A former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, London is currently an associate professor of dance at the New World School of the Arts in Miami (where he teaches Graham technique and African-Caribbean Dance) and a faculty member for the Alvin Ailey summer intensive program. London is proud to carry on the traditions established by Martha Hill at Juilliard, the Martha Graham legacy, and the dances of his homeland through his work at both New World and the Caribbean School of Dancing in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Peter London

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How does what you learned at Juilliard shape your daily life as a teacher and artist?
I was 23 years old my first year at Juilliard, and already had a professional career as a dancer and teacher in Trinidad, but the level of commitment and focus at Juilliard was the highest I had ever experienced. While at Juilliard I built up an incredible amount of stamina, both mentally and physically. Our teachers represented the highest level of dance and the demands they had for the craft were the highest in the world. Juilliard also gave me opportunity to tour work from Trinidad throughout New York under the auspices of the Lincoln Center Institute. President Polisi even came to a performance. The fact that the president of the School came to an inner-city school to watch us teach and dance made us feel that what we were doing was so important and respected. It was a major turning point for me—that kind of support from the president made me realize what we meant as artists and dancers, and what we could give to the world.

How was your commitment to promoting dance in your native Trinidad and Tobago and your pride in your cultural heritage reflected in your pursuits after graduation?
Growing up in Trinidad, I felt we had such a high level of arts and variety of dance and music, yet we didn’t have a national school and a lot of financial support. We had the first black dance company in the world, and you can find dancers from Trinidad in companies around the world. With every project, I try to present to the Trinidadian government and the community that we do have the talent here and can produce the work at a high level. At one point there were four or five students from Trinidad studying at Juilliard; we developed a project, Truly From the Heart, and took dancers from Juilliard and various companies to Trinidad for a series of workshops and performances. It is my hope that through work like this, the government will see a need for support.

In 2006 you set Martha Graham's 1936 work Steps in the Street on the Metamorphosis Dance Company, in residence at the Caribbean School of Dancing in Port of Spain. Do you have plans for future collaborations?
The Graham organization made generous allowances for a portion of the costs, but it was still very expensive to do. I have spoken to the artistic director of Metamorphosis, Nancy Herrera, and we are working on inviting people from the Trinidad community and the government to see these works performed. I will continue to go to the Caribbean School and hope to continue to set Graham works on them.

How is all of this reflected in what you are doing now at the New World School of the Arts?
I am an associate professor there while still being available to the Graham company for resetting works. I am setting Graham’s Diversion of Angels on the students here at New World, and as part of our curriculum we continue to do different Graham pieces. I am proud of what we have accomplished; the work is at a very high level. Currently we have four students from our high school program at Juilliard. Many of our graduates have gone directly to professional work. Through New World, I teach in the community as well. And many of our students go back into their communities throughout Florida, teaching young students. We have a new generation of modern dancers in our communities learning Graham, Limón, Humphrey. They have a sense of modern dance history that will carry the work forward. They will be the legacy carriers.

 

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