The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (CPRD) Ensemble’s production of Carmen, along with two other world premier productions, Uprooted: Pero Replantado and La Mulata de Cordoba, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre, told the stories of love and appreciation of culture. Each piece, with its own dedicated renowned choreographer, had lively folklore music, vibrant costumes, and shared a strongly rooted narrative of culture. The execution of dance technique, compassion, and artistry was top notch. The piece kicked off the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, a spirited celebration in Mexican culture, which was fitting for the evening’s production highlighting this Mexican and American collaboration.
In the lobby of the theatre, which is located in Denver’s historic Five Points business district, there is a photo exhibition titled, Conmemoración de Centenario de Amalia Hernández. This exhibit is to honor the Mexican International Icon of dance and to kick-off the 125th Anniversary celebration of The Consulate General of Mexico in Denver. The photos showed archived works from CPRD, and most notably a photograph of the dance icon, Hernández, next to the Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos and U.S. President John F. Kennedy at a state dinner. The exhibit is free to view and will be on display in the theatre lobby until June 30th. Hernández, founder of Ballet Folkórico de México, created powerful performances paying homage to the value of Mexican culture and art. Her daughter, Viviana Bastanta, choreographed a piece for the evening.
The audience was welcomed to the theatre by the wonderful Cleo Parker Robinson. She made an opening speech to introduce the other artists in the room and share her gratitude to “the community that grows with us [the ensemble],” and made the audience feel as though they truly were at home in their seat. Mrs. Robinson set the tone for the evening, exuding love, appreciation, and color into the air. “Being a non profit for 47 years is magical, and there is so much culture right here in Denver,” she said in her opening.
Viviana Bastanta, artistic director of Ballet Folkórico de México de Amalia Hernández, premiered her work La Mulata de Cordoba. From beginning to end, the dancers portrayed the story beautifully through traditional costuming and folklore music. The movement of the piece displayed each dancer’s ability to utilize their technique to become grounded within a story line. Bastanta’s admiration of her culture and deep-rooted love of dance transcended through the piece.
Uprooted: Pero Replantado choreographed by the acclaimed Donald McKayle before his passing, respectfully and genuinely expressed the story of immigrants. The dancers wore traditional street clothes, which influenced a more genuine telling of the hardships experienced by immigrants. The thumping and drumming of guitar and drums, with a spoken word intertwined in the work, enhanced the movement. A male trio portrayed the despair, heartache, and spiritual challenge an immigrant experiences during their travels and settling to a new country. A captivating solo of a female dancer in a traditional red Mexican Flamenco dress instilled hope, dedication, and honor of Mexican culture. There was a visceral experience with the movement as though the audience could feel what these individuals and communities undergo when relocating their lives within another culture. McKayle has numerous infamous works and has been honored for being one of the first black dancers to construct modern American dance. Uprooted honorably demonstrated his desire for technique, artistry, and spirit of storytelling.
Cleo Parker Robinson’s reworking of Carmen had a unique spin with jazz flare in a bossa nova (Brazilian music genre) style. The staging of the piece included a bar scene, with a live pianist, bassist, percussionist, and Erica Papillion-Posey the live opera singer. In this contemporary version the ensemble danced and acted the “courage, compassion, and hope of dreamers, immigrants, and families,” according to the program description. As the story developed relating the 1940-50’s jazz scene to present day hardships, the audience was carried through the stages of desperation and hope experienced by these individuals. The spirited dancing, parallel to the live music, costume styling, and heartfelt story telling exemplified the ensemble’s technical and artistic ability.
Beginning with the archived photos in the lobby, the audience was transported through the relationship of Mexican and American culture, which share heritage from African diaspora, by virtue of the art of dance. Each choreographer’s appreciation of dance and culture was symbolized through their productions. The production of Carmen left the audience appreciating dance artistry, and love of the heritage and culture of those around the world.
Sutton Anker currently lives in her hometown of Littleton, Colorado. Her love of dance took root at a young age when she began dancing at a local studio. This passion grew and carried through into college and beyond. Sutton earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance Science from the University of Wyoming, followed by a Master’s of Science in Dance Science from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. Her technical training is in ballet, release technique, Horton, modern, tap, jazz, vertical dance, hip-hop, pointe, and functional fitness. Throughout her B.F.A. at UW, Sutton performed in various productions including From the Ashes: A Cinderella Ballet, Duet and Power/Full (a Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company production), The Nutcracker, Boxed Set, and Six Songs from Ellis.
Sutton has a keen interest in motor learning, motor development, and pedagogical techniques, taking several kinesiology classes in her undergraduate and graduate programs. Sutton has presented at several dance science conferences, including the 2010 Performing Arts Medical Association Conference (Specific Stretching for Individual Needs), the 2013 International Association of Dance Medicine and Science Conference (Effect of Mirrors on Dancers’ Ability to Learn Movement), and the 2016 International Association of Dance Medicine and Science Conference in Hong Kong (Master’s thesis – An Investigation of the Pedagogical Rationales for Current Mirror Use in a Ballet Technique Class).
Sutton currently works at Foothills Park and Recreation District in Children’s Programs. She has a passion for empowering kids’ creativity and educating youth on physical and mental health. Sutton continues to engage in dance by teaching at local studios, participating in classes and workshops, volunteering with Presenting Denver, and pursuing her research interests.