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A Dance and Music Troupe That’s Redefining Performing Arts

A Dance and Music Troupe That’s Redefining Performing Arts

Leah Fallon

Dance Magazine named LED a group to watch in 2020 — and they’re living up to the hype

A performance troupe that’s pushing the envelope on just what’s possible when dance, music, storytelling, and film are combined has caught the attention of industry big wigs like Dance Magazine. But what’s just as exceptional as their genre-bending performance art is the fact that they’re based not in New York City or Los Angeles — but in Boise, Idaho.

The group, called LED, was founded in 2015 by husband-and-wife team Lauren Edson and Andrew Stensaas. Edson, the nonprofit’s artistic director, is from Boise. She was professionally trained at Idaho Dance Theatre, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and The Juilliard School. Stensaas, who was the lead singer, songwriter for the band, Edmond Dantes, serves as the troupe’s creative director. Together, the duo combines original choreography and music into stunning cinematic experiences.

Edson and Stensaas co-conceptualize each of LED’s projects, constantly sharing work and ideas. Living and working together gives them the opportunity to grow inspiration and ideas together, and push each other into places that seem scary and unfamiliar — all while raising their two boys.

Edson says that working in the early mornings and late nights helps them build upon the “spine of the work that leads us in the direction it wants to go.”

Dance Magazine - LED
Lauren Edson, LED’s co-founder and creative director, plays the role of a janitor in the upcoming film Ruin. [Photo courtesy of LED]

Put another way, she says, “We are a dance company. We are a musical project. We are a film studio. We are two creatives of like mind that bare very different fruit. Through tree shaking, analysis and encouragement, we pair what we bare.”

Fresh and unpredictable

LED’s performances are fluid and organic, born from their team of talented dancers and musicians. And the producers hire new artists to fit each performance. Edson says she relishes in bringing in new talent to “keep the room fresh and unpredictable.”

She says finding the right dancers is much like casting for a movie, aiming to match personalities, talents, and skill to the performance and characters they portray.

The dancers exhibit talent, alluring charm, and nuance to produce a dramatic cinematic effect. Each performance is paired with its live, in-house band, which has been an intricate part of each performance since LED’s inception five years ago.

LED — which stands for Lauren Edson Dance — connects with all kinds of artists and aficionados. Some viewers appreciate the dance. Some come to hear the band. And others are intrigued with how it all comes together for a theater and film experience like they’ve never before seen.

It’s no wonder this is a company to watch as they grow beyond Idaho.

Beyond Boise, Dance Magazine takes notice

LED’s dynamic work has heads turning far beyond their home theater. In fact, Dance Magazine named LED one of 2020’s “25 to Watch.” The magazine describes the dancers, choreographers and companies that made the cut as “breakout stars, paradigm shifters, game changers…that are on the verge of skyrocketing and illuminating where the dance world is headed.”

Edson says it was a huge honor to be included on a list alongside artists she admires.

“Outside validation gives our work a boost,” she says.

Tony performs in LED’s upcoming film Ruin. [Photo courtesy of LED]

Inspiring crowds nationwide and locally, LED has garnered support from greater Boise. Its space along Boise’s Grove Street is lauded as an artistic hub and cultural center in the Idaho capital. Community support has given them the encouragement they needed to take their performances to Sun Valley, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, and the Winspear Opera House in Dallas.

Like many theaters around the world, LED has been shuttered as a result of coronavirus. The pandemic has left many dance companies — along with their bands, dancers, actors, producers, and supporting staff — deprived of space to inspire and express art. Though the time during quarantine felt like it could disintegrate theater arts as we know it, Edson and Stensaas were destined to revive the space and LED’s mission.

The two continue to think outside the box to get the dance troupe and band together. In July, LED hosted PiKINic — an outdoor, live performance and dinner in Boise to raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement.

A new stage

Now LED is pausing their live performances to focus on a new film project, with a storyline that rings true for so many performers who are out of work amid the pandemic. The film, called Ruin, follows the stories of six people who work in the not-so-glamorous elements of the theater: an electrician, usher, stagehand, janitor, concession worker, and wardrobe supervisor.

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The Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, at Boise State University, is the central character, a ruin that has lost its vitality after being empty for so long. The six performers revive the dormant theater, cultivating creative energy within the walls of the once empty rooms, halls, and stages.

The film is an opportunity for the producers to embrace the digital space to control what the viewers see, a distinction from live performances.

“Through close-ups, editing and pacing we can decide how much of an image to show and how long to linger in a moment, which can greatly influence a viewer’s perception,” Edson says. “While film will certainly never replace the emotional depth and experience one has through a live performance, it offers new perspectives to those who take it in and is a fertile ground for us to explore within.”

Filming begins in November, and Ruin will be released in early 2021.

Keep tabs on LED’s projects, including Ruin, at ledboise.com, on Instagram (@LEDBoise), Facebook (@LEDBoise), or YouTube. Support their work at Patreon.com/LEDboise; those who give as little as $5 a month can watch every step of the creation process and receive access to the film once it’s completed.

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