How A New Boise Arts Organization Is Electrifying The Scene

Oct 7, 2015

Lauren Edson and Andrew Stensaas are what you might call an artistic power couple. They’re both talented creatives in their own right – Edson is a dancer and choreographer, and Stensaas is a musician. They’ve been collaborating on and off for a few years.

But recently, the married couple landed on their big idea: forming a new arts organization that would push the limits of form and genre. LED was born around the same time as their son. They make their official Boise debut with a full production of "This Side of Paradise" Oct. 10 at the Morrison Center.

As Stensaas admits though, getting LED off the ground takes more than inspiration.

“Art is hard," he laughs. "It’s a hard thing to do. Especially establishing an arts organization; I think that’s a difficult undertaking for anyone to take on.”

Edson – who grew up in Boise – studied at the famed Juilliard School in New York. She came back to Boise to dance in the Trey McIntyre Project, where she gained a loyal and wide following. Stensaas was part of Portland’s music scene in the early 2000s, touring with bands and making a name for himself. He’s been an instructor at the Boise Rock School since 2009.

When choreographer Trey McIntyre decided to dissolve his dance company almost two years ago, Edson echoed the sadness many in the community felt. But she says that loss also presented an opportunity for LED to push the Boise dance scene to the next level, by blending live music, video and storytelling.

“Boise is the perfect place to do that," she says. "It’s – I think – primed for a company like ours that is wanting to bridge the gap between technology and art.”

"Boise is the perfect place to do that. It's - I think - primed for a company like ours that is wanting to bridge the gap between technology and art." - Lauren Edson

During a recent preview of their upcoming show, which follows the tumultuous love story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, their two art forms are on full display. Edson and her five dancers convey emotion with each movement, building off the tempo and mood of Stensaas and his band.

But unlike other companies, it’s not simply a band playing music for dancers to interpret. The two genres are fused, and the artists build off of each other’s energy.
 
After the preview, audience member Sarah Barber says it’s hard to choose which part she was more drawn to.

“The music was worthy of a show in and of itself without the dance," says Barber. "But I’m an athlete and so the physicality was really gripping to me, you could kind of see [the dancers] sweat. And I thought that was awesome. They’re wonderful athletes.”  

Barber is happy LED will make Boise its home – rather than choosing a bigger cultural hub.

This Side of Paradise - Promo from Lauren Edson on Vimeo.

For local dancer Yurek Hansen, the chance to work with LED is thrilling. He says the company has every artistic tool at its disposal.

“Which is really, really nice," Hansen says. "It’s not defined as a dance company, it’s not defined as a band. It’s honestly potential.”

But Hansen says that potential can only be explored if the community supports the fledgling organization.

One of the people helping to bring LED to the big stage is Rich Raimondi. Raimondi and his wife first met Edson when they were sponsors of the Trey McIntyre Project. They met Stensaas a few years later.

“What’s exciting about someone like LED," Raimondi says, "who will have not just a regional footprint but a national one, and this was one of the magical parts of the Trey McIntyre Project is: they will also get investors from around the country, who want to invest in the kind of art that’s made here and then goes on the road.”

Raimondi says in his 35 years involved with the arts scene in Boise, the creative landscape has never been stronger.

Building A Sustainable Arts Nonprofit

But Cathy Giese says creativity isn’t the only thing needed to build a long-lasting nonprofit. She’s the director of Idaho Regional Ballet, and taught Edson dance years ago. She’s rooting for LED to succeed. But Giese says Edson and Stensaas have chosen a tough path.

“Returning to Boise is a hard thing to do and still work as a dancer," Giese says. "But Lauren is forming her own company. I certainly hope that it works.”

Giese says the young couple will need to be careful not to burn out or get bogged down by all the things it takes to sustain a company – while also performing in it.

She says Boise is lucky to have LED, and Edson and Stensaas have both the talent and dedication it takes to build a performing arts organization. She says the creative directors are smart to bring in a wide audience.  

“You may have people that love music, so they come for the music and then they see dance. So maybe the next time they’ll come for just dance.”

Edson and Stensaas plan to work with artists from around the world. They are hoping to collaborate with an Israeli choreographer next.

But first, they have a hometown premiere to celebrate.

Follow reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio