Lee Edwards, MFA in Dance ’22: Cyclical Navigations: In the In Between

This is part of a series commemorating this year’s cohort of Duke’s MFA in Dance. Learn more about the program and its 2022 graduates here.

Lettering as Traces of Individual and Collective Life

Using a body-forward lens to explore, learn, and grow the mind to reimagine the world, in entering their work, Lee Edwards suggests we appreciate the force of movement as a method of exploring aspects of shared and disparate histories, which are intentionally incomplete. At times these histories are located in a practice of remembrance, at other times, located in an invention of new methodologies for understanding bodies as archives.

Through stories of the lives and memories of the many, who opened spaces for Black Femme, Black Queer, Non-Binary, and Trans identifying folks, we create opportunities to engage and make visible their experiences. Lee is concerned with Black stories, our physical beings, and the earth we stand on as parallel sources of biological, emotional, and ancestral memory (Gibson 2008, 48-49). These histories are crucial to approaching the multitude of Black experiences with an awareness of regard and attentiveness.

How do we navigate that In Between-ness of a honey-laden stickiness of relating to one another—the “other’” without inducing harm.  The act of purposeful, intentional care as we regard personhood, lived experiences, elder- wisdom, space, and place as sources of life, energy, and memory, and the understanding of one’s body as a source of power and potential for change…these are the encounters Lee asks us to receive and initiate.

Through a collaboration of dedicated artists, committed to creating safe spaces for dialogue, movement, reflection, and a simultaneous commitment of mind and body transcription, Lee facilitated the intervention of Lettering, a nonlinear journey of time, memory, storytelling, and location as an experimental opportunity to reimagine the “erotic” as a non-binary force, as a non-binary “knowing” to correct systems of racialization, colonization, and the violence of disembodiment.

—Ava LaVonne Vinesett

Professor of the Practice of Dance

All photos from the opening reception of Cyclical Navigations: In the In Between

Thesis Project

Cyclical Navigations: In the In Between conceptualizes storytelling as a practice of embodied memory recollection—one that aids in the navigation of cyclical temporalities in the present, or the “In Between.” The In Between is the space between and within history and the contemporary. It is the liminal space that exists between an Afropessimist reality and an Afrofuturist practice. This project considers what is possible if Black history, and thus Black stories, are treated with care through the valuing of Black bodies and voices, both living and deceased. It interrogates what happens when land is viewed as a container that holds the stories of those who are and were, and what happens when we acknowledge what and who was while inscribing what and who is into space. This interdisciplinary installation takes the audience on a nonlinear journey of time through memory, story, movement, and location.

About Lee Edwards

Professor Ava LaVonne Vinesett and Lee Edwards

Lee Edwards (they/she) is an interdisciplinary movement artist and storyteller whose primary modes of making are through dance and poetry.

Originally from Mount Vernon, NY, Lee began showcasing their talents and creating performances at family gatherings and social functions. They were a praise dancer at Mother A.M.E. Zion Church (Harlem, NY), and a dance club captain in high school. Lee’s formal dance training started at The Dance Theatre of Harlem School, after which they went on to receive their B.F.A. in Dance from The University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Lee has danced and performed with companies Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround, Putty Dance Project, Dancespora and Jo-Me’ Dance. They have worked with choreographers Michael Mao, Ani Malaya and Kimberly D. Landle. Their writing has been featured in works by iKada Dance, Drye Marinaro Dance Company and by artist Surya Swilley. They are a past artist in residence with The Wassaic Project, and Activation Residency.

Most recently, Lee’s work Now or Then: Strange Fruit was a part of the Wassiac Project’s All Out/All In exhibition.  Lee in collaboration with artist Nyugen Smith was one of three artist teams to be awarded the NEA Artworks Grant. They participated in RESIST COVID / Take 6! and have explored meditating on safety and rest for Black Femmes in public space during the American Dance Festival’s Creative Healing Parade 2020 with collaborators Alyah Baker and Amari Jones.  Lee was a panelist at Columbia University for the annual Artists-in-Conversation Series 2020 “Love as Art Ethic & Art Practice” and has presented work in Under Exposed 2020 at Dixon Place, APAP 2019 with Booking Dance Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Qinfolk 2019 in Ithaca, NY.

Why Duke University?

Lee was drawn to Duke’s program specifically because it’s idea driven. “Duke not only offered space for movement research, but also allowed me the opportunity to focus on African and African American studies, and gender studies courses. While I was excited to create, I was equally as excited to learn how to articulate my work not only verbally, but also contextually.”