An LED show is a thing unto itself. It’s magnetic — more like a rock concert than a dance event. Boise’s newest arts group blends original rock-infused music, contemporary choreography, film, art and design into a layered experience for the audience that feels very personal in its extreme physicality and electric vibe.
But what really makes this company click is the charisma of its core artists — dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director Lauren Edson, 33, and composer, musician and Creative Director Andrew Stensaas, 35.
There is something tangible and connected about this artistic group that proudly calls Boise its creative home. That’s because from inspiration to execution, the work comes from artists deeply rooted in Idaho through family, life experience and the arts community.
“Culturally, Boise is happening,” Stensaas says. “Even in Salt Lake or Portland, you don’t have the same kind of scope on culture as Boise, and in the next decade I know Boise is going to grow exponentially.”
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The husband-and-wife team have an appealing creative alchemy.
“When you make an investment or get involved with anything, for me it comes down to the people and the quality of their character,” says Rich Raimondi, a longtime arts supporter and a fan of LED as well as a former HP executive and current Bishop Kelly High School president. “Lauren and Andrew care about this community. They’re good folks, capable and talented. Ideas are important, but you have to believe in the people behind them.”
Edson and Stensaas met in 2009, married in 2011 and began collaborating in 2013. Their first project, “Shatter on the Rocks,” premiered at The Egyptian Theatre with Edson’s choreography and Stensaas’ original music and soundscape.
In 2014, their son, Finn, came along at about the same time as Edson and Stensaas gave birth to LED and began developing their first full-scale performance combining dance, music, film and art-fusion.
“This Side of Paradise” told the story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald — both tragically flawed artists — through a contemporary lens. They honed the production through workshop performances at Trailhead, Treefort and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Greenshow. They created intimate showcases for donors and fans.
The completed work debuted in October 2015 at the Morrison Center with a viscerally dynamic performance that flooded the senses and left the audience wanting more.
Now, more is here. Edson and Stensaas are spearheading the evolution of LED’s second main stage project. “This Way to the Egress” is another multimedia production, this time with a completely original narrative that explores how we age (or try not to). So far, they’ve performed iterations of “Egress” at a mobbed Treefort concert, a packed night at the Visual Arts Collective in Garden City, a flash show on Boise’s 8th Street and several smaller venues along its way to the Morrison Center.
With this mix of venues, media and ideas, it’s hard to put LED in a category, says dancer Brett Perry, who works with LED as a performer and creative collaborator.
“They’re really creating a new genre of performance art, a new kind of theater and that’s very powerful,” Perry says. “Lauren and Andrew are thinking big, which I like. I think we need more big thinkers here in Boise.”
Filmmaker Kyle Morck, 25, created the projections for “This Side of Paradise” and helped build the group’s interactive website. Now, he’s becoming more involved as the company’s managing director.
He’s still working on the artistic side, co-producing and conceptualizing videos and producing events for LED. He’s also helping LED to streamline its ambition and to solidify its structure, message and their connection to Boise.
Last month, LED acquired a brick-and-mortar rehearsal and office space at 1737 S. Broadway Ave., just north of the iconic Junkyard Jeans in Boise. Over the past few weeks, Stensaas and Morck built a floating floor and rolled out a Marley dance surface and created walls for office space, getting the space ready for “Egress” rehearsals.
“We want to cement our connection to Boise,” Morck says. “I was surprised that so many people expected Lauren and Andrew to go someplace else. That was never in our minds. So, this is us saying, ‘Look, we’re here to stay.’”
It happened in Boise
Edson was born in Boise. Stensaas’ family moved here when he was 9; Morck’s when he was 7. The three all graduated from Boise High School at different times.
Now, Boise is where they intend to continue building their futures.
“Boise is such a great place to create,” Edson says. “Now, we’re raising our child here. We understand even more how wonderful it is to be here and how lucky we are.”
Edson started dancing as a child and choreographed for the first time in fifth grade. She trained and performed with Ballet Idaho and Idaho Dance Theatre before heading to the North Carolina School of the Arts and The Juilliard School in New York City. She eventually moved to Portland, Ore., where she created a solo project, freelanced and earned a health degree at Portland State University. She never expected to return to Boise. Then in 2009, she joined the Trey McIntyre Project, the international dance company that was based in Boise and headed by renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre. That’s where she met Morck and Perry.
Stensaas was born in Iowa. He started playing music at 3 and wrote his first song at 7. After graduating from Boise High, he also headed to Portland to seek his musical fortune. He played in several Northwest bands, including the successful Sons of Sirens, but burned out on that scene and returned to Boise in 2009.
Always good with computers, Morck started experimenting with film in high school. In 2009, he co-wrote, produced and shot “Macbeth: The Movie,” a feature-length film with his Boise High drama class. Instead of going to one of the colleges that accepted him, Morck decided to just try making films. A few months later, TMP hired him.
Filling the void
When TMP ended its dance company in 2014, it left a void in Boise’s arts community, and many people expected Edson to fill it. That pressure increased after the critical success of “This Side.” Edson and Stensaas realized being parents and busy artists could easily get out of control. Bringing Morck on board is an attempt to manage LED’s ambition and future vision, Edson says.
“We have all these vehicles for people to come into the work — dance, music, film,” Edson says. “We’re attracting all these wonderful dancers and musicians who want to work with us, and there are all these opportunities, and I have a hard time saying no. I want to do it all. It’s so good to have Kyle on board. He is helping flesh out our brand, keeping our message clear and aligning it with what we’re trying to do.”
Edson and Stensaas got caught in the trap of making the company all things for all people, Morck says.
“That’s understandable when you’re starting a nonprofit,” he says. “You need to appeal to a wide audience of donors, but it becomes hard to run a nonprofit when you can’t say no to opportunities because you’re strapped or overeager. We hope we never have to say yes to something we don’t feel is creatively right. We want to grow the company in a real, sustainable way.”
It’s not just art — it’s personal
Edson’s and Stensaas’ concepts come out of their life experiences. The performances that go into a project are like a conversation with the audience that evolves with each iteration of the work.
“That’s how we’ve structured these last two years,” Edson says. “Dance is so ephemeral. It’s here and it’s gone. Someone who came to the Treefort show and the VaC show, then comes in October to the Morrison Center, you’re along for the ride. You get to know us in a more intimate way. LED is an extension of us.”
The context for “This Side of Paradise” was Stensaas and Edson’s desire to support each other as artists yet remain true to their own individuality. Their latest idea, “Egress,” was inspired by their struggle to become parents.
“It’s something I think we all grapple with,” Edson says. “I think of myself as very much a child, and I can’t fathom that I’m a mother trying to shape this human being who is his own being that has nothing to do with Andrew or I. It puts a mirror up to your own insecurities.”
“This Way to the Egress” began as an exploration of aging, especially as it applies to dancers who tend to have short careers. That was a reality that hit both Mom and Dad when Finn, now 2, was born. Finn is the center of their lives and serves as a constant inspiration, Edson says. (You’ll hear Finn’s laughter in the soundtrack for “Egress.”)
Morck brought in a circus element to “Egress” when he heard about the legend of a lost chimpanzee that ran away from a traveling circus in Mountain Home and became one of the first animals at Zoo Boise. The performance features circus and animal character makeup created by Boise makeup artist Danyale Cook.
Between the Treefort and VaC shows, “Egress” changed in structure and narrative. It went from a playful exploration of circus themes to a more focused story about a young man coping with growing older and taking on more responsibility.
Now it’s evolved even further.
“As we went from that initial idea, we started to find characters that we liked and wanted to develop to tell their story,” Morck says. “So it’s not so tied to the story of the zoo anymore. The circus is just a metaphor.”
So the circus element is still there, but it’s more subtle. The production will feature short films created by Morck, Stensaas and Edson, featuring the main character, first danced by Boisean Evan Stevens. His character grows up during the production and is then danced by Perry.
“‘Egress’ will have more of a film presence,” Stensaas says. “It’s something different. It’s like having organic matter imposed on a cinematic experience. The ideas we’ve been throwing around have been pretty great. It’s pretty exciting.”
Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actor’s Equity who writes about performing and visual arts in the Treasure Valley for the Idaho Statesman and Treasure Magazine. Read more arts coverage at IdahoStatesman.com.