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Spectrum of styles: Different Dimensions; Festival within a festival

Sarah Dixon

Nestled in the second week of a Dance Festival – which prides itself on diversity and variation – lies a night which is a microcosm of the very same. The Vail International Dance Festival’s Different Dimensions evening features three companies of diverse profile and stylistic nature, sharing the stage in an evening of spectacular dance.

“My concept for this series was to create a miniseries, a festival within a festival, with exactly what the title implies ” different dimensions on the spectrum of dance styles,” explained Katherine Kersten, Producing Artistic Director of the festival. “Whether classical, contemporary, modern or jazz – it’s all dance.”

Each of the three companies featured in this year’s Different Dimensions possesses an identity, style and presence all their own.

“With so many excellent dance companies today, what better way to present them than to put several on one evening, all on the same stage,” said Kersten. “It’s win-win for everyone – the audience and the companies, however you look at it.”

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance

Cleo Parker Robinson and her dance troupe last performed on the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater stage, it was nearly 20 years ago. Notably, this was the first dance company to perform in what is now a famous venue.

“Being there with President and Betty Ford, it had a very powerful impact on my being,” said Robinson from Denver, where her internationally-renowned company is based.

“It was my birthday that night and they had for me the largest carrot cake in the world,” Robinson reminisced with an audible grin. “I haven’t had a birthday quite so special since. Remembering that night, the power of the elements, being outdoors, everything seemed to be so alive. The moon, the stars, the wind – I can feel and smell and taste it. And we haven’t been back since – we are so looking forward to performing there again, it is such a powerful space for me.”

And this is no claim to take lightly. Robinson based her piece, Raindance, on the power of the natural elements in this world, and their ability to engage an audience. And specifically, an audience in Colorado.

“Raindance has such a synergy,” Robinson said. “Choreographer Milton Myers and myself worked in Paris, trying to come up with a piece I would want for my company. But there was nothing in Paris that I wanted. Milton had felt such energy in Colorado, so we returned and harnessed the power of the elements here, of the seasons, the season change, how close we are to the heavens, we bottled that energy.”

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance has performed this piece all over the world – from Egypt to Greece, Singapore to Istanbul. Audiences from such disparate corners of the world unite in their appreciation for it.

“It is truly a universal work,” she said. “Wherever we perform it, people feel connected. It is a ritualistic piece. Human beings love to gather for all kinds of occasions, and this is one in which they participate in a circle of human kind.”

Nearly 36 years ago, Robinson founded the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company (CPRD) with the belief that dance transcends the boundaries of culture, class and age. It’s comprised of a professional modern dance ensemble, year-round dance school, 300-seat theater and in-school lecture demonstration series.

One unique characteristic of CPRD is their unfaltering commitment to community outreach. One program the company is involved in is Project Self Discovery, a 12- week intensive program providing students with the arts as an alternative to substance abuse and gang violence.

“I always encourage the young people I see who are so afraid,” Robinson said of the students she often works with. “In their private sharing, some would say that they were afraid to come on stage, they were afraid to be called upon to be their very best, that they did not have the confidence to come to a class. But they were not afraid to do a drive-by shooting. Theater and dance – things which are so natural for some of us, which we grew up doing and knowing and feeling – some others are terrified to feel wrong.”

Robinson said she is certain the program has made a real difference with the gang activity since its inception. And she has said that with Project Self Discovery students, as with countless other people she has worked with in her career, dance is the universal language that everyone can understand.

“Dance is a universal language, it doesn’t matter where you are, once you open up the spiritual dialogue there is a connection, whether you speak the language or not,” she said. “That is what we have found ” with all dance, but with this particular piece ” we have found it is a tool with opening up the heart.”

ODC/Dance

With a dynamic movement vocabulary thick with accents of athleticism, energy and intellectual depth, ODC/Dance brings an undeniable presence to the stage.

“Our dance is exceedingly athletic and rambunctious,” explained ODC/Dance Artistic Director Brenda Way. “I think it was described best in a review a few years ago: This is a company where real people are really dancing.”

Founded in 1971 by Way, the company moved to San Francisco in 1976 on a big, yellow school bus. Perhaps that stands as a testimony to the confident, entrepreneurial spirit of the company and its founder. Artistic Co-director KT Nelson and Associated Choreographer Kimi Okada have since joined the team, bringing to the table some of the finest in American contemporary choreography. However, Way explains that no modern dance is without classic roots, a fact which is reflected in the piece the company is performing, 24 Exposures.

“None of us walks the earth without a history – I was ballet trained as was more than half the company,” Way said. “So that lives in the body, but the piece is contemporary. There is also a beautiful quiet duet in this, so it is reflective, but the overall spirit is very optimistic. It’s a physical view. More than imagistic or theatrical, I would call it optimistic physical.”

The piece, though contemporary, calls upon history in more than one way.

“The piece is done to contemporary-traditional music – Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor, an Appalachian suite,” she said. “My very first piece in the beginning of time was also to a bluegrass piece, so it calls upon my own roots and history. It traces the course of our dance, from the postmodern 1960s to the present.”

Way also spoke to the excitement that exists when several companies come together for a night of fusion, like the Different Dimensions evening.

“We love it really because it’s like meeting several different people at a party,” she said. “There’s a flair and excitement because of the differences.”

Nevada Ballet Theater

The Nevada Ballet Theater, born in 1972 of Vassili Sulich’s vision to bring a professional ballet company to Las Vegas, has grown tremendously since its inception. Now in its 34th season, the last nine of which have been under the tutelage of Artistic Director Bruce Steivel, the company has a national reputation and a cast of talented, well-schooled dancers.

“Our dancers do it all, they are very versatile,” explained company manager Laurel Knox when prompted to categorize the style of dance imbued by the company. “They can dance the classics, the full-length story ballets, but the company has, especially in the last few years, really branched out to the more contemporary style. They are incredibly strong dancers, they can do anything we present them with. Every choreographer, every new dance, is a chance for them to improve.”

The piece the company will perform at the festival, Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet, certainly pushes the mind, body and the sense of humor of each dancer to a new level. It was created for the Broadway debut of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male dance troupe which is renowned for spoofing the traditional, classical ballets. This piece is no different, making light of the plethora of piano ballets that were popular during the so-called dance explosion of the 1970s and ’80s.

“It’s very comedic – this will be the comic relief of the evening,” said Knox. “It’s a very tongue-in-cheek piece.”

Choreographed by Peter Anastos, founding director and choreographer of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the piece reflects the unique humor and eclectic spin characteristic to Anastos’ work.

“Peter Anastos has a tendency to exaggerate, to take what would otherwise be the traditional, pretty ballets, and take them in a different direction for comedic flair,” said Knox.

Yet it’s not all fun and games. Anastos also holds the honor of two Guggenheim fellowships in choreography and four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, not to mention his credits as a writer and dance historian. His witty interpretations on dance, coupled with his great achievements as a choreographer, translate to warm entertainment on stage.

In additional to the aesthetic intrigue inspired by the coming together of three diverse ballet companies on one stage, Kersten hopes the audience can truly experience the range of emotional reactions the evening is also built to inspire.

“Joyful, dramatic, classical, humorous, edgy, far-out, thoughtful, challenging or provocative, whatever plethora of human emotion, dance can and will express it.” Kersten said. “The imperative thing that each company strives for is the deepest, purest and most identifiable emotional level.”

Vail, CO


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