The acclaimed Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble of Denver will make two stops in Utah during the coming week.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m., they will dance in Kingsbury Hall as part of the fourth annual Season of the Arts, presented by the Associated Students of the University of Utah.On Friday, Nov. 16, they will be at Utah State University in Logan for an 8 p.m. concert in the Kent Concert Hall of the Chase Fine Arts Center, sponsored by Cache Performances.
Robinson, a native of Denver, founded her company in 1971. After almost 20 years of bringing cultural arts to American communities, the company still provides a path for dancers, particularly minority dancers, to excel at a professional level.
The ensemble's varied program in Utah will include a premiere work, "Pronouncements and Conclusions," by Donald Byrd. They'll also present at least one movement from Donald McKayle's suite, "Songs of the Disinherited," which they premiered at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. last June, to rousing approval - probably a solo, "Angelitos Negros," by dancer Marceline Freeman, with music by Roberta Flack, said Robinson in a telephone interview.
"Scattin'," a suite by Robinson (who does the majority of the company's choreography) with music by Bobby McFerrin, has a lot of fun in it, she said. "One movement, `Chick-Hen,' is about how my mother and father met. Both were totally engrossed in music - she as a member of the San Diego Symphony that toured in Denver, he as a teacher in the music department at Denver U. They met in the band room, and I think it was love at first sight." Robinson's parents now work with her in her company.
Also programmed is "Araignee," a duet by company member Gary Abbott, "a very sensual dance," and "Rain Dance" by Milton Myers, an former Alvin Ailey dancer. "He wanted to utilize what he felt was a unique sense of ensemble in my company," said Robinson.
That sense of ensemble is no accident, since some of her dancers have been with her from the beginning. "Then I have dancers as recent as three months. Even so, both old and new have a common language," she said. The company has 14 dancers from "all over."
Though she hasn't danced in Salt Lake City since the '70s, Robinson acknowledged a debt to the Repertory Dance Theatre, where she once studied, and she felt that the RDT model was a good one to follow.
She attended Colorado Women's College, and during her junior year co-founded her company, with poet Schyleen Qualls. She taught for awhile at Colorado University in Boulder, and studied in workshops and summer programs with Murray Louise, Merce Cunningham, Pearl Lang, Eleo Pomare, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey and Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem.
She frequently teaches workshops at prestigious universities, and her many awards, grants and fellowships have come from the National Endowment for the Arts, Colorado, Texas and Western States Arts Councils, Atlantic Richfield and Mountain Bell Foundations and Adolph Coors Company. She serves on NEA panels, national task forces, boards and committees in the arts, and is a longstanding member of the board of directors for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
"We have received support from the NEA every year since 1971," she said, "but the recent problem there has taught a hard lesson, that we can't take government support of arts for granted in this country.
"Even though we have made such progress in centralizing the arts, with arts in education and taking arts to rural areas, we must look to our home bases for support. If national support should collapse, I think we have a more educated audience that would not let a whole generation of effort fall by the wayside."
She recalled a time when she was studying in Salt Lake City, when it was announced that she had received a Colorado governor's award in the arts. "We were invited to tour very small communities in Colorado, and we soon realized that there were areas in the state where children had never before been with people of color," she said. "That made me nervous at first, but as we toured where modern dancers had never been before, we were able to change stereotypes." Its usefulness in changing perceptions is one of the things she loves best about dance.
"Dance goes right to the spirit, it goes past any barriers we have set up - religion, age, sex, color - it is a common denominator. We need more of that, the world community needs to be bonded," she said.
She is both proud of and humbled by the influence dance has in the world. "I know from letters and calls we receive that you can have an amazing effect in minutes or an hour. I have been told, `the workshop you did 10 years ago changed my life!' "
The ensemble has toured widely in America, and in Central America, Africa and Singapore. But some of Robinson's most important work is right at home in Denver, with her CPR Dance Ensemble Dance School Theater, which has about 200 students. "We have been given a building by the City of Denver for $1 a year, and we renovated it into studios and other spaces," she said.
"I thought when I first started the company that I could just create, do dance only. But you have to educate a public, and raise money to support your aims. In a sophisticated society you have to get into the 21st century flow, or you're not making it.
"A dance company is a business, it's competition. We perform and tour nationally and internationally, keeping our school going year round, and sometimes present other companies. But I love every bit of the work I do, and I wouldn't do anything else."
Tickets for the Salt Lake concert at $10-$12, $5 with U. of U. ID, are available at Kingsbury Hall and Smithtix. In Logan, purchase in advance at the USU ticket office in the Smith Spectrum, or at the door. Prices are $12 adults, $7 youth, or with valid USU ID, $2 in advance at the information desk in the Taggart Student Center, $3 at the door.