Tell us about the journey from the original concept of KIRA, The Path | La Voie to what will be performed at Luminato in June.
LS: In 2016, I ventured into my first collaboration with a world-renowned artist to create and present a neo-traditional African work whose artistic language bridges the values between tradition and encapsulates the fluid boundaries of modernity.
I commissioned KIRA, The Path | La Voie, a production rooted in African dance, song, and live music, choreographed and composed by Fara Tolno. KIRA is my first full-length commission. One of my objectives was to bring to the forefront the sophisticated artistry and intricacy of neo-traditional African dance forms and its significant influence on contemporary dance styles.
Neo-traditional denotes traditional dance and music vocabulary taken outside of the context of the social ceremony for which it was originally created, allowing it to evolve and be innovative and thus contemporary. Fara’s artistic language can be cautiously coined as neo-traditional.
The past three years offered the artistic team of KIRA the incredible opportunity to cultivate knowledge of the variety, foundation, and complexities of dances from Guinea, West Africa and learn tools to integrate artistic intention with deeper mind-body-soul connections - rooted in traditional African dance and rhythms.
There is a term in the Ewe language (from Ghana, West Africa) - seselelame - that describes one wholesome feeling of the spiritual, physical and intuitive embodiment. When you have seselelame, you “know what is happening inside you, around you, through you”. When I dance my goal is to experience seselelame. This is what we want the audience to come experience. A connection of senses, imagination, mind, spirit and more.
How long has KIRA been in development?
LS: The creation of KIRA has been in development since 2016, thanks to support from the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council and The Canada Council for the Arts. Since then, 11 dancers and 7 musicians have been part of its creation process and have had the opportunity to work with KIRA’ s guest choreographer and composer/musician Fara Tolno.
Can you tell us about the major inspiration(s) for KIRA.
LS: I was born and raised in Ivory Coast for 12 years and am of Ghanaian and Italian heritage. My father was the one who taught me to love and appreciate nature. My family would often spend weekends at Grand Bassam, a resort town near the city of Abidjan on the Atlantic ocean or in the nearby villages where I could pick fresh guavas and experience nature. KIRA is an homage to the African continent and its incredible natural resources.
What can viewers expect when they go see KIRA? Who do you think will be the most interested in this work?
LS: The viewers can expect to be overwhelmed with an unexplainable desire to move after watching soulful and passionate drumming, dancing and singing!
KIRA is for audiences of all ages and walks of life who feel connected to and responsible for the well being of this planet.
If you had to summarize the story of KIRA in 5 words, what would they be?
LS: Love and nurture Mother Earth.
How does KIRA speak to contemporary society?
LS: I believe that the drum sings the beat of humanity’s heart, a heart that cannot survive without Mother Earth. The djembe is the name of the drum used by choreographer and composer Fara Tolno, in KIRA. Djembe in Bambara (Mali) means “gather in peace”.
The djembe is considered an intermediary between the visible and invisible world of our ancestors. Drum rhythms call onto the community to safeguard moral values, preserve and respect the environment and much more. This is a timeless message that somehow we keep ignoring.
What are some of the biggest challenges/setbacks you are facing while creating KIRA?
LS: Finding space where we can drum is one of our biggest challenges.
Do you have a favourite line or section from the piece?
LS: I don’t have a favourite section but I love the many songs we sing that reminds me of this quote
by Shoghi Effendi “Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is
itself also deeply affected by it.”
Was there a specific piece of art/artist that first inspired you as a young artist?
LS: My mother, Ranzie Mensah, is my biggest inspiration. She’s a professional singer who showed by example the meaning of fortitude, perseverance and fierceness.
Do you have any rituals/routines that you do before or when you’re creating? Any weird objects or superstitions that help you be your best creative self?
LS: I pray, stretch, and warm up vigorously and make sure I do my breathing exercises.
What was your first big work that you created? Is there anything you’d change about it?
LS: War Child was my first piece. I wouldn’t change a thing. It was far from perfect but I was a young choreographer and I poured my heart and soul in it.
What are your procrastination go-tos when you want to take your mind off of work?
LS: I don’t procrastinate. I work like a demon...haha. I’d say I relax, sometimes. I hang out with friends and family or watch a series.
Have you attended/participated in Luminato before? What’s your favourite Luminato memory?
LS: I was part of the cast of dancers in Apocalypsis, directed by Lemi Ponifasio. That was an amazing, out-of-this-world experience. 1,000 people on stage!
What’s your favourite spot in Toronto (or the world)?
LS: In Toronto, I love Harbourfront and the beaches in the summer...anywhere close to the water. I love the water. Aside from Toronto, both the Pays Dogon in Mali and the Grand Canyon were a spiritual experience.
Which other Luminato 2019 shows are you excited to see?
LS: I have a close friend featured in Obeah Opera and I’m looking forward to see it.
Why did you want to present your work and be a part of the festival?
LS: Luminato is a great platform for Canadian audiences to experience both the fluidity of diverse dance expressions rooted in African dance as well as humanity’s sacred relationship to nature and the cosmos.
On a more practical level, KIRA also aims to foster a deep appreciation and understanding of the diversity of African dance techniques and styles.
Experience KIRA, The Path | La Voie from June 6-9 at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto, Canada during Luminato 2019.