Outsider Art Clown Triumphs
Children and laughter spilled into the aisles of the Pine Street Church throughout movement artist Peter Davison’s Objectivity Dance Theater’s performance during the 2016 Boulder International Fringe Festival. A ball became many balls that leapt from hand to hand as jackets and hats slipped on and off. A ladder balanced and bowed as the person on it did the same, and a tea setting seemed to move on its own (much to the hilarious chagrin of the characters wishing to use it).
Objectivity Dance Theater is the latest, and perhaps fullest, incarnation of Davison’s ongoing efforts to “bring joy to people through humor” and “create an art covering a wide emotional spectrum in which people and objects interact in surprising and meaningful ways.” Davison’s partner in the company, ballerina Jennifer Aiken, and he share an appreciation of whimsy and a generally lighthearted approach to performance. Their interactions were not, however, shallow. Indeed, when they were not making us laugh, the concentrated intensity of the duo’s attentions to each other was truly moving.
The childhood roots of Peter Davison’s creative explorations flourished in visual art. His mother was a visual artist, and his brother also followed that route. Davison and his brother also shared a fascination with the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, known as the originator of the mobile. Calder’s addition of movement to the intrigue of objects inspired Davison to similar efforts in building and magic, and at age 12 juggling served as Davison’s introduction to the world of object manipulation. Originally from Santa Monica, CA, Davison performed as a busker in Los Angeles in his teens, and began his formal dance training when he moved to Boulder, CO in 1980. He studied ballet, modern, and tap, and has danced with Kim Robards Dance, David Taylor Dance Theater, 3rd Law Dance/Theater, Jan Justis Dance Theater, and the Boulder Ballet.
Davison co-founded Airjazz in 1982, a trio that “pioneered a unique style of performance mixing juggling, dance, and theater.” The trio may have begun as a juggling troupe, but it quickly expanded in a more theatrical direction. Their ever-developing and fluid blend of expressive movement, physical comedy, and subtle visual humor defied descriptive categorization and continually delighted audiences. Davison says he still draws on some of the artistic foundations laid then. The group toured widely, both nationally and internationally, and their 1984 appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was one of several national television spots in seven different countries.
Davison has also made several television appearances as a solo performer, and has been featured at diverse theaters and festivals including Spain’s Encuentro de Malabaristas, the Cincinnati Playhouse, Seattle’s Moisture Festival, and Finland’s 5-3-1 Festival of New Juggling and Object Theater. He currently offers one-man “New Vaudeville” shows of varying, customizable formats. Davison’s choreography has been sought after and performed by organizations including Ballet Nouveau Colorado, David Taylor Dance Theater, the Saint Paul Ballet, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and more.
While a faculty member at the Boulder Ballet School, Davison started the innovative Boyz Dance program as a way to bring underrepresented male students to the practice of movement. The recurring course continues today as a mix of dance, mime, and juggling, and appeals to a range of interests and levels of commitment. From 2004 to 2015, Davison was Co-Artistic Director of the Boulder Ballet. In 2009, he won the Ballet Builders Award for new choreography. Davison’s approach to choreographing for the company as well as the school was adaptive: Rather than pushing dancers into a pre-existing vision, Davison created stories based on the individual strengths of dancers. Bringing together the elements of music, narrative, and character expression that he refers to as “pieces of a puzzle,” Davison used a whiteboard and football-style play design to direct every detail of many productions. This may sound highly orchestrated– it certainly wasn’t random– but the end result was unpredictable and the process intensely creative.
Jennifer Aiken was a principal dancer with the Boulder Ballet during Davison’s tenure. Davison often incorporated various levels of object manipulation into Boulder Ballet performances, and Aiken was always game to develop these skills. Though an accomplished solo performer, Davison was looking to access the storytelling potential of working with someone else. “There’s a big limitation, like a box, to being a solo performer.” The relationship between performers on stage introduces a new depth of expression and connection, as evidenced by the pieces performed by the new company at the Fringe Festival. Davison remarks that choreographing for two strikes a warm compromise between doing so for just one, or for a group.
While watching the members of Objectivity Dance Theater work their magic, I witnessed that objects don’t have to act in the ways that I tend to take for granted. They don’t have to be put to the uses that I expect. They needn’t even accord to physical rules I may have assumed to be inviolable. I took this as a reminder to look more closely at such “ordinary” objects– a cup, plate, hat, or chair– and reconsider their existence and characteristics. Once they were taken out of familiar context I was able to perceive, anew, interest. This usually childlike capability is refreshing, renewing, and representative of an integral, and admirable, tenet of the company (and Davison’s).
Jane E. Werle: At three months of age Jane E. Werle, unable to protest, was removed from Loveland, Colorado by her well-meaning parents. In 2004 she was able to rectify this error when she relocated from Massachusetts to Boulder for graduate school. One M.F.A. and a husband later, Jane works to further the arts in the Front Range as a writer (reviewer, interviewer, curator) and enthusiast (no-shame, first-on-the-floor amateur– despite some training– dancer). Jane is also a longtime nanny and a visual artist, taking one of these very seriously and the other as a growth experience. Every child she’s cared for has experienced some form of the SDP: Spontaneous Dance Party.