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Donald K. Atwood
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Dance Springtime in the Rockies

by Donald K. Atwood
May 23, 2008
Colorado Front Range
Donald K. Atwood is the editor of WorldDanceReviews.com
Front Range Colorado can be loosely defined as a 20-mile wide north/south corridor on the eastern side of the mountains, from Ft. Collins and Greeley on the north to Colorado Springs on the south. That area includes at least four universities/colleges with dance major programs – Colorado State University (CSU) in Ft. Collins, University of Colorado in Boulder (CU/Boulder), Naropa University in Boulder, and Colorado College in Colorado Springs – one university with a strong dance minor – University of Northern Colorado in Greeley – and two universities which present major dance companies from around the world – CU/Boulder and the University of Denver (DU) at its Newman Center. In addition major arts magnet high schools exist throughout the area, such as the Denver School of the Arts, which has a delightful dance program. With that healthy education background it is not surprising that from March 21st to May 11th, 2008 some thirty dance concerts were presented in the area. Some of those concerts were student, faculty, and MFA concerts at the above institutions, but the majority were presented by dance companies that varied from local to large touring shows. Venues varied from large theatres such as the Denver Performing Arts Center's Ellie Calkins Opera house and CU/Boulder's Macky Auditorium to small studios such as Kakes studio in Boulder. Most interesting is that at all of the concerts audiences were dance literate and engaged. The following is a sampling of what the 2008 Dance Springtime in the Rockies included.

On the first day of spring Jennifer Golonka and KC Chun-Manning's brand new "Threshold Project" presented eight short works in Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts. Both Golonka and Chun-Manning are stunning movers with amazing presence, as are their dancers. It will be exciting to watch this group use what is an exciting movement vocabulary to speak to their audiences. Just one day later DU's Newman Center presented Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi in "The Beauty of Little Things" - a powerful work that embodied "Western " and African dance genres, voices in various languages, and with a sound score that varied from instrumental music, to drums, to songs of birds, and sometimes became totally and stunningly silent. A week later the Ft. Collins Dance Connection presented "New Visions Dance Festival" in the Lincoln Center Mini-Theatre - featuring work by Northern Colorado choreographers.

April opened with Helander Dance Theatre's "Petrol – Fueled by Life's Awkward Transitions" in Boulder's Dairy Center. That company's Artistic Director, Danelle Helander, is nothing short of a genius in the motivations she uses to build dance, and how she sets work into wonderful segments that include movement and vocals - those vocals varying from English text, to French, to gibberish, or just sounds like a running car. The next two weekends Ballet Nouveau Colorado (BNC) presented the results of its "21st Century Choreography Competition." BNC received twenty-nine entries to that competition. Entrants posted videos of their work on "You Tube." BNC then encouraged the general public to vote for the dances they liked. Almost 33,000 hits resulted, and that audience vote was used, along with BNC Artistic Director Garret Ammon's vote, to select three finalists. Each of those finalists was given about 25 hours of rehearsal time in BNC's Broomfield, Colorado studios to set their work on BNC's dancers. BNC then presented the three finalists at Northglenn's DL Parsons Theatre and at the Lakewood Cultural Center, where panels of imported choreographers – such as Trey McIntyre and Wendy Perron – Garrot Ammon, and community arts people – like the Director of the Central City Opera – judged each work. Ma Cong's (from Yun Nan, China) "Inner Voices" was declared the winner of the competition. That work pretty much took on all aspects of the music Ma Cong chose - which can sometimes seriously shorten performance life - however, Cong's movement choices and inventions kept the work alive, especially given the abilities of BNC dancers to embody them. His "Pas de Deux," set on Megan Coatney and Jason Franklin, in no way fulfilled the classical definition of a pas de deux, but was breathtaking.

On the same weekend the Denver Center for the Performing Arts presented the "Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre" in three performances at the Ellie Calkins Opera House to sell out houses. That company is maybe the ONLY modern dance company that can sell out at Lincoln Center in New York City. There is a reason for that. Like other Black choreographers such as Katherine Dunham, Talley Beatty, Cleo Parker Robinson, and Donnie McKayle, Ailey's dances and dancers speak to all of us in ways we can understand. They speak not only about American Black experience, but also about American experience. And they do that vibrantly in ways that can make us cry, clap, and sing. And that is exactly what happened in each of these performances when "Revelations" was performed. In fact, just the opening music to that work brought audiences – mostly White - to their feet.

During the first three weekends of April Melanie D. Milow presented her one-woman show "M*Shaka*Fusion" at the Crossroads Theatre in Denver's Five Points. Five Points is a historically Black neighborhood, which was severely segregated throughout most of the 20th Century, and is now being "gentrified," i.e., the real estate is now so expensive historical Black families are being displaced. But, it is not all bad yet. The neighborhood is still wonderfully diverse and a great place for Milow's show. Her creativity, combined with her talents, allows her to build lots of compelling work – LOTS. Her energy in presenting that work is such that she can hold an audience for long, long times. I see her as an emerging, Black Meredith Monk.

In the middle of April Boulder's premier aerial dance company – Frequent Flyers Productions (FFP) – presented "The New Comic Book Heroes," – seventy minutes of super people doing super things in Boulder's Dairy Center. Deeply influenced by collaborating poet Jack Collom, whose mantra is "dare to be corny," FFP, Collom, and comic illustrator Scorpio Steele presented a delightful show involving new heroes such as the mean and exploitive "Damsel" (Kim Townsend - see photo), every person's clergy "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" (Nancy Smith) who preached at the Church of the Dashboard Nun, "Dance Captain" (Liam Gladen), "Soul Source" (J. Darden Longenecker), and a stilt walking "Alexis Scissors Legs" (Danielle Hendricks). Katie Elliott and Jim LaVita's "3rd Law Dance Company" created a bridge into May with their presentation of "Clean Room" (also at Boulder's Dairy Center). In that work Elliott, LaVita and a company of excellent dancers dealt with all the aspects of living in a digital world where it is never clean enough to avoid errant bytes, where faster is better, where it is hard to live in a world without defined space, where it is sometimes hard decide if you're the real you, or the avatar you, and media decay despite promises to the contrary. Of note was Jennifer Golonka's ability to dance full out at light-speed, never failing to complete each gesture and movement, or embody slower elegant movement about not having any real place to be – Eliza Kuelthau's solo in an up-right small space defined by faux laptops – Michael Richman's want-to-be-faster solo – and Angie Simmons ability to be in exactly the right place with exactly the right gesture. Both Richman and Joshua Fink were convincing "ballerinas" even if never en pointe, and all of the tightly grouped "data-set" choreography was delightful to watch.

The first weekend in May the Denver Independent Choreographers Project (DICP) presented one of their many concerts in Northglenn's DL Parsons Theatre. DICP provides venues funded cooperatively by the participants in any of their concerts. That DICP exists is a treasure for Front Range Colorado. It allows any number of choreographers from emerging to accomplished to present works that otherwise might never get out there. One just needs to know that careful adjudication of the works is not part of DICP's process. So – if you go see them – be aware that is not part of what you paid for. Instead look at the enthusiasm and incredibly hard work put into building what is put up for you to watch – and join them in exactly what their mission is, i.e., providing a democratic way for dance artists from anywhere and at any stage in their careers to present work.

The Front Range Colorado spring dance season ended (sort off) with two totally diverse works in two totally diverse venues – both in Boulder. The Boulder Ballet presented their annual Mothers Day concert in the Boulder Theatre by presenting their Artistic Directors' – Ana Claire and Peter Davison – version of "Cinderella." Notable moments were numerous and included Cinderella's (Nicole Miller) solos with her broom - within which were lovely walking phrases - the step sister's (Jennifer Aiken and Jennifer Kuhn) duets, well choreographed ensembles where the unison phrasing was really unison, Rob Kuykendall's wide open, exuberant dancing, a wedding set among flowing fabric and vows established as a fabric knot opened, and other moments too numerous to mention. I'm guessing only the hardest of hearts in the audience had dry eyes as Prince Charming (Lance Hardin) escorted his bride downstage and into the audience. So it was love-triumphs, everyone lives happily-ever-after, and over-the-top sweet and/or at times funny. Well … it worked on Mother's Day, and Boulder Ballet deserves thanks for a wonderful gift. That company has become well deserving of description as a "professional ballet." That same evening "Tinhouse Experimental Dance Theatre" presented Joanna Rotkin's "Eating and Dreaming" in Boulder's small Kakes Studio, as performed by Rotkin, Breanna Rogers, and Jayne Lee. "Eating and Dreaming" is a continuously developing work about a seriously challenged mother (Lee), two daughters (Rotkin and Rogers) that suffer every sibling rivalry you can imagine as acted out in over-the-top stereotypes, and three sons who absolutely refuse to show up for meals no matter how often and how loudly they are called. Food is duct taped to the table along with errant hands to avoid spills, the table moves, chaos reigns supreme, but audience is always assured the family loves each other – deeply.

Front Range Colorado's summer will include more dance – lots more. The National Performing Arts Convention will present numerous companies in Denver in early June, the Aerial Dance Festival sponsored by Frequent Flyers Productions will happen in Boulder in August, as will the Boulder Fringe Festival. And Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet will present their annual summer concert in Boulder's Chautauqua Auditorium. The weather will be delightful and the mountains just to the west spectacular. You're invited.

Kim Townsend (aka Damsel)
One of The New Comic Book Heroes created by Frequent Flyers Productions

Photo © & courtesy of Kristin Piljay

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