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Rocky mountain dancing.

Denver is a newly gentrified metropolitan area surrounded by the rugged, snow-capped Colorado Rockies. Twenty-five miles northwest lies the city of Boulder, home to a matrix of new modern dancemakers. Boulder and Denver were once mining towns settled by Anglo and African Americans, Mexicans, Native Americans and Asians. Today, a curious and exciting interface among these diverse cultures drives performing artists. Two of the major dance forces in Denver are Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, an African-American company founded in 1970, and Colorado Ballet, an outgrowth of a dance school that was founded in 1951.

Visiting with a number of choreographers in the Denver and Boulder areas, it became apparent to me that the single most important concern is the lamentable state of funding for dance. This said, "sixty dance-related artists are registered with Dance Bridge," reports choreographer Mary Wohl Haan. The majority of these artists are based in Boulder's affluent community. Perhaps the things that unite these disparate groups into an artistic movement are creativity and a belief that dance empowers community and ethnic identity.

CARMEN NELSON, a Guatemalan who fled her country and settled in Colorado, began dancing late in life. "At the age of 32, I traveled to Costa Rica and learned to dance salsa," Nelson said. "I fell in love with the idea that nay body could communicate with someone else's. The sense of community inspired by these dance lessons led me to produce Boulder's first Afro-Latin dance festival."

Third Law Dance Theater was cofounded by multimedia artist Jim LaVita and dance collaborators Susan Levin and Katie Elliott. Their dance theater work is about natural phenomena; a recant piece, Barometric Pressure, is about weather. Dancers speak about rain, while walking through filmscapes of moving bodies of water. The company uses a core of regular dancers and pickups as needed, as well as its directors, who reside in the same house.

Robert Sher-Machherndl, founder of Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet, came to Boulder from Europe in search of a home. Formerly a principal dancer with Bavarian State Ballet, his choreography is heavily influenced by Mats Ek and William Forsythe. Sher-Machherndl has built a company of female dancers, as well as founding a ballet school. His latest work, Love Crimes, set to North African and East Indian sounds laced with bluesy rock'n'roll, is a speed-driven, hip-jutting dance for seven women on pointe.

Rene Heredia, Carmen Amaya's former guitarist, is unusual in that he both composes and choreographs. "I got off a tour bus when Denver was a sleepy cow town," he recalls. His flamenco puro seduces and beckons with flawless musical rhythms. A unique aspect of Heredia's art is the fact that he teaches and accompanies dance, an unusual practice for a flamenco musician.

One of the most innovative multimedia choreographers living in Boulder is Mexican Ana Baer Castillo. Her digital dance theater weaves potent visual tales of Latin American dictatorship, murder, and human suffering. With the Hispanic ghettos bordering Boulder very much in mind, Castillo extracts tragic metaphors from contemporary Latin American history to fit our fragile world.

While Colorado dance artists search for funding, communication, community activism, and technical innovation, their most awesome and perhaps insurmountable task is the daily competition with the extraordinary natural world around them: The blessed mountain ranges that grace their cities seduce many outdoorsy Coloradans into spending most of their leisure time outside. Drawing young audiences off the ski slopes and into the theaters to experience another kind of aerial athleticism is these choreographers' greatest challenge.
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Title Annotation:Dance Matters; Denver, Colorado home to new modern dancemakers
Author:Bennhaum, Ninotchka
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:585
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