Dancer Jason Hartley teetered on the edge of The Record Exchange’s small stage during a First Thursday preview last week of “This Side of Paradise,” a multimedia performance from LED. A breathtaking example of physical control, Hartley’s movements — a mix of sharp jabs, deep lunges, knee work and off-kilter turns — touched on styles from modern to break dance.
When joined by the five other dancers of LED, including choreographer Lauren Edson, and 10 musicians, including LED co-founder Andrew Stensaas, who is Edson’s husband, they pushed the stage to its limits.
This is no ordinary ballet. This is a fusion, rather than an integration, of art, music, dance, film and technology.
“There are elements of dance involved,” Edson says. “But we didn’t want to feel that we’re limited to any particular style, space or rules. We want to embrace the possibilities that are out there.”
“This Side of Paradise” is a lyrically layered narrative, based on the relationship between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Edson and Stensaas used Zelda’s writings and F. Scott’s first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” as inspiration.
Once the “it” couple of the Jazz Age, the Fitzgeralds’ lives ended separately and in tragedy. But this retelling of their smoldering, tempestuous marriage is more than setting their biography to music on a stage.
“For this project, Lauren and I are pooling our talents to create a unique event,” Stensaas says. “We want to give the performance a cinematic feel.”
The piece blends Edson’s rapid-fire choreography with music from Stensaas that ranges from richly romantic to raging hip-hop. The three sections focus on Zelda, F. Scott and the world they inhabited, through a very contemporary lens. The production explores their lives using flashes of memory, impressions and emotion. The score also blends spoken word, a typewriter’s clacking, whirling machinery and breaking glass.
“There is a through line but it’s abstract enough to pull in different facets,” Edson says.
As much as it is about these two historical characters, “This Side of Paradise” is really about the struggle to create, collaborate and synthesize something new.
That struggle also lies at LED’s core in the essence of Edson’s and Stensaas’ personal collaboration.
“Zelda and F. Scott were two artists, independent and strong,” Edson says. “So are Andrew and I, but we complement each other in a perfect way. Still the question is, how do you allow the other person to fully develop and see their full potential? Coexisting is difficult in any era.”
Edson and Stensaas both grew up in Boise.
Edson, 32, danced with Ballet Idaho’s Youth Ensemble and Idaho Dance Theatre before heading to the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Juilliard School in New York and eventually Portland, where she created a solo project and freelanced with other companies. She returned to Boise to join the Trey McIntyre Project in 2009.
Stensaas, 34, started playing music at 3 and wrote his first song at 7. He left to find his musical fortune in Portland at 19, rocking in several Northwest bands, including the successful Sons of Sirens.
They both lived in Portland for three years at about the same time, but “it’s a good thing we didn’t meet,” Stensaas says. “I was kinda wild.”
The Sirens broke up, and Stensaas returned to Boise in 2009 to teach at Boise Rock School and start up Edmond Dantes, a duo with Ryan Peck. He ran into Edson at a family gathering. He sent her a Facebook message, and they met for drinks, hit it off and started dating. They married in 2011.
About a year into their relationship, they collaborated on a grant that they didn’t get, but “the process of working together was magic,” Stensaas says.
That experience sparked the evolution of LED. It started as lauren edson + dancers in 2013, a small but successful touring company. After the birth of their son, Finn, in 2014, they came back to the stage with the idea of LED as a more inclusive and expansive arts venture.
“This Side of Paradise” is their first project under the LED banner.
And though it does lean heavily on dance and music, both Stensaas and Edson hope future projects will become more diverse and include a growing network of artists.
They want LED to turn Boise into an incubator for artists, performers, designers, writers, filmmakers and musicians from across the nation and in Idaho.
Watch a video of LED’s preview performance at the Record Exchange on Oct 1.