BWW Interview: Chatting with LEYLAND SIMMONS
Leyland Simmons is a rising choreographer who is on the move to big things. His dance training began at the Royal Academy School of Dance under Barbara Devereaux in Anchorage, Alaska. From there, he went on to study dance at several notable schools such as Dance Theatre of Harlem, Miami City Ballet, The School of American Ballet, and The Ailey School, among others. He is a graduate of the Professional Performing Arts High School in New York City, and is a former member of Ailey II and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. As an educator, he is a certified teacher in the American Ballet Theatre Pre-Primary to Level 3 curriculum, holds a Master's degree in Dance Education from NYU, has taught at several studios such as Steps on Broadway, and is currently the Resident Choreographer at the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA).
I had the lovely opportunity to chat with Mr. Simmons about some of his upcoming endeavors.
Q: Can you talk about your role as the Resident Choreographer at HSA?
A: Over the past four years, I have been able to work under Aubrey Lynch, Director of Dance at HSA, to create works on the students for various performance opportunities. Aubrey then approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming a Resident Choreographer- which I started this role in the fall of 2016. Here, my purpose is to create works on the students and allow them to experience the creative process of dance. I also help prepare students for high school dance programs, dance competitions, and support the students to follow their love and passion while uplifting the next generation. In addition to assisting in the artistic direction of the dance department, I am choreographing for the Fall Blaze at HSA.
Q: What is the Fall Blaze?
A: The Fall Blaze is a dance concert that will feature performances by students from the HSA Dance Ensemble and Junior Dance Ensemble, with choreography by Aubrey Lynch and myself. The performance will also feature appearances by Erica Lall who in 2016 became a member of American Ballet Theatre's Corps de Ballet following in the tradition of Misty Copeland and Randy Castillo- former soloist with Dresden Ballet, Lyon Opera, and the National Tour of American in Paris.
Last year, HSA presented a Winter Blaze. It was our first time doing something like this. And it was so successful that we decided to do it again, but this time in the fall.
In this year's concert I will be presenting 5 pieces, 2 of which are world premieres. The first new piece, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," is inspired by the writings of Alice Walker. It is an all-girls piece featuring members of the HSA Dance and Junior Dance Ensemble. It will be exploring the feminist movement from the perspective and experiences of women of color. The music and spoken word include the voices of James Brown, Tracy Chapman, Odetta, Julia Kent, Maya Angelou and others. The second dance, "Kissing You," features guest artists Erica Lall of American Ballet Theater and Randy Castillo. This is a work with music by Des'ree that explores the joy and pain of teenage love.
Hosting the event will be our very own Jordan Hall, an HSA Alum whose credits include featured roles in Matilda, Disney's The Lion King National Tour and Motown the Musical.
It is of much importance to us, that we provide various performance opportunities for our students. The goal of the Blaze is to serve as a platform to showcase the talent that exists at HSA and to give them the experience and exposure to dance alongside professional dancers.
Q: What is next for you as an artist and a choreographer?
A: Well, in addition to my work at HSA, I recently started my own dance company- Leyland Simmons and Company. The mission is to present avant-garde and innovative works that reflect the human experience. And we just had a performance at the 2017 White Wave Festival. I am very excited about this new journey, and I plan to be able to create new works for the company as well. I am also very much looking forward to collaborate with others and hope to inspire people through my performances.
And if that wasn't enough, I am looking to start my own arts education organization called the Moving Education Institute. My colleague and I are looking to create an arts in education program with an emphasis on different social justice issues. We are very much in the early stages of it, but stay tuned for more information!
Mr. Simmons is an amazing person who I know will be making a difference in the lives of many youths through the art of dance. The Fall Blaze concert will be taking place Saturday, November 11th at 7pm and again on Sunday, November 12th with performances at 1pm and again at 5pm. For tickets and more information, please visit HSA's website at www.hsanyc.org.
And of course, you can learn more about Leyland and keep up with what he is doing at his website at www.leylandsimmons.com.
Photo Credit: Rachel Neville