An Afternoon of Joyful Dance and Community

An Afternoon of Joyful Dance and Community

Photo by AMA Photography. Image courtesy of One Big Yes Productions.
Photo by AMA Photography. Image courtesy of One Big Yes Productions.

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 2nd, audience members and dancers alike filed out of the Dairy Center for the Arts’ Performance Space with smiles on their faces as laughter chimed out in the lobby. One Big Yes Production’s Annual Casual Spring Showing was a convivial, relaxed melange of finished and unfinished works intersected by exhibitions of founder Nancy Cranbourne’s intermediate and advanced classes.  Cranbourne’s ebullient energy and enduring spirit of fun, seen clearly in her show-anchoring interjections between pieces, kept the event light-hearted.

I applaud Cranbourne’s class participants for sharing their efforts and enthusiasm. In an interesting and eventually entertaining twist, two of the pieces were performed twice. The first, Rammalah, offered the dancers an opportunity for a “do-over.” As Cranbourne stated, how often in life does one wish one could simply try it again? This also encouraged the students to dance more freely, with the weight of a perfect performance expectation removed. The second, Stay, showed how differently the same choreography might be interpreted by different people or, as in this case, groups. I appreciated the chance for individual expression (and expressions!) throughout the event, but such was especially evident in this piece.

My companion had an interesting note for the staggered formation of the dance classes. She wondered if it might be fun and visually challenging for the large group to split into smaller groups during their movements. The groups could then interact in (potentially) previously unexplored ways. She and I also discussed some notes for Mary Wohl Haan’s solo piece (a work-in-progress) Memory. Haan’s use of a picture frame made me think of self-awareness and self-examination within the context of (perhaps self-imposed) constraints. I could see the frame fixed in place on stage rather than being carried by Haan; this could solidify that context of constraint and allow Haan to move more freely within and without that.

It was so special and affirming to see people of varying ages and levels of ability all enjoying the freedom and joy of movement. Watching the faces of the dancers, I felt that I was realizing something new (to me) about dance. It became clearer to me how a person could dedicate his or her life and body to dance; how, indeed, could a person not want to do so? I consider myself a dance enthusiast– to dance makes me happy, and my body sometimes makes more sense to me when it is moving– but I don’t see myself as having the fortitude to make dance my life. However, today I had to start rethinking that supposition.

The duet of Lauren Beale and Brooke McNamara made me think of the power of dancing together as opposed to by oneself. When there is more than one person involved, the variables and possibilities increase exponentially rather than geometrically (parents with more than one child may deeply appreciate this). This can increase interest and difficulty as well; in this case, I felt that the use of two bodies in exploration of the theme (which I perceived as a struggling and potentially damaged self) raised compelling concerns. Could the two be aspects of a single person? What a clever way to examine the splintering of the self and the care that one can give to oneself.

The SPILL Project with Cortney Mcguire, Chrissy Nelson, Joanna Rotkin, and Laura Ann Samuelson brought a generous dose of sardonic humor and expectation-defying choreography to the mix. Initially appearing as exhausted snowbunnies slumped on stage, the four dancers used each other, their zippers and hats, and plenty of physical comedy as they gathered their funky energy as best as they could. The audience was appreciative and I found myself chuckling with the rest. This refreshing and unusual approach to accomplished movement left me wanting a lot more. I’ll be following this organization’s progress. I hope they continue to challenge the borders of what dance can do, be, and offer to an audience.

The afternoon’s closer, Fatass Joint (Dance Lab), carried on the general use of body-movin’ music. The dynamism of the dancing group was infectious and a pleasure to witness. Cranbourne had stated that the piece would end in an odd way, as it was unfinished, but I was struck by the polished feel of the work. The dancers exuded a confident and sophisticated air and I thought it seemed nicely whole. Members of the Schiff Dance Collective participated in some this piece as well as performing an excerpt of the company’s new work The Untruth that I Wore. Find my review of their recent performance here on the Presenting Denver Blog.  The Schiff Dance Collective has a wonderfully strong sense of cohesive and apparently seamless vision and presentation.

The highlight of the show and perhaps the apex of Cranbourne’s cheerful audaciousness was a piece credited to her in the program, but spontaneously and magnificently carried by a partner/friend drawn from the audience, Kelsey Kempfer. Cranbourne notices her friend during her introduction, and secured Kempfer’s agreement to dance at that time. Kempfer is a professional, true, but anyone would be challenged by a complete (and surprise!!) two-minute improvisation. Thankfully, there were the props of an ironing board, iron, and ironing woman available for the dancers’ use…!

One Big Yes Productions has other exciting irons in the fire. Visit for information about upcoming performances, workshops, and intensives. Don’t miss your chance to get on the train.


Jane E. Werle: With artwork and writing published by Bombay Gin, Hot Whiskey Press, Wyrd Tree Press, Summer Stock, and her own imprint, Thirsty Lizard Books, Jane is a passionate proponent of creativity, self-expression, and the pursuit of elusive and meaningful beauty. A poet, educator, and longtime nanny, she works and explores with kids, challenging young minds and safeguarding young hearts. Jane graduated with an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and has come up with no compelling reason since to move away from the lively Denver area and its admirably self-made cultural opportunities. Contact Jane with editing needs, parenting problems, and extravagant travel writing proposals.