In a time of recurring global crisis, Cleo Parker Robinson’s Mile High Dance Festival was a welcome reminder that peaceful connection still exists in the world. This Saturday, nine dance companies from Denver, Boulder, and beyond gathered to celebrate dance, and in doing so, humanity. Cleo Parker Robinson marked the 6th annual Mile High Dance Festival with the theme of global dance, but another theme presented itself without announcement: diversity. Nearly every age, ethnicity, and social circle was represented as people gathered in the grass to witness the joy of movement.
The festival was nestled between the Thomas W Bean Towers and Cleo Parker Robinson building in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. Truly a community event, one Towers resident watched the entire show from her room, her elbows propped up on the windowsill. Another paused in the glass-walled stairwell for several pieces.
Throughout the day, the Mile High Dance Festival offered classes in yoga, Zumba, and hip hop, and even showcased a hip hop battle. Just before the performance, teachers took turns leading a multicultural bantaba, a sampling of dance styles from around the world. Hip hop, West African, and Samba teachers each led a few minutes of beginner movement in their style of dance. Dancers and non-dancers of all ages got off of their picnic blankets to experience a taste of multicultural movement. Watching carefree 7-year olds doing Afro-Brazilian dance with 70-something’s truly brought home the message that dance is for everyone.
The performance was even more lively than the preamble. Nine presenting companies comprised a program as vibrant and diverse as the audience watching, with performances in the styles of Afro-Brazilian Samba, contemporary, modern, Spanish Flamenco, ballet, Mexican, and Indian dance.
The show opened with a duet performed by two alumni of the Cleo Parker Robinson Youth Program. The college-aged dancers, a male and female, performed a sensual duet with creative choreography and lifts.
Samba Colorado’s work began with subtle, feminine movements that paid tribute to the goddess of water. Momentum grew, culminating in a celebratory section marked by large gestures and flying jumps.
Denver staple, Hannah Kahn Dance Company, showed three pieces: two duets and one quartet. All were an example of the company’s highly technical dancers and classical modern repertoire, the quartet including the dancers exchanging playful glances.
The dancers of Davis Contemporary Dance performed to live poetry. Their light gestures and balletic lines reflected the words of poet Emily McIntyre (who sat onstage), relating to her in spacing and eye contact.
Flamenco Denver presented a duet between two female dancers. Their percussive footwork and expressive faces engaged the audience as live guitar, percussion, and singing painted a vibrant soundscape to match.
The outdoor venue seemed especially complementary for Ballet Ariel, who presented a few scenes en point from the ballet, Cinderella. The “ugly stepsisters” and step-mother taunted Cinderella with luxurious silks as the wind rippled the fabric and tangled Cinderella’s hair, adding to the magic of the fairytale.
Fiesta Colorado’s work was a flash of color. Pairs of male and female dancers shared a joyous piece, do-si-do-ing around one another as they flashed smiles across the stage and flourished their colorful skirts.
Five women of Moraporvida Contemporary Dance performed, showcasing their strong technique as well as each dancer’s unique voice. The movement looked at once natural and polished, allowing the audience to get lost in the relationship between dancers.
Mudra, an Indian dance company based in Aurora, was a crowd favorite. A group of seven women performed, dressed in gauzy blue dresses with gold satin ribboning and decorated in shimmering jewelry. Three live drummers layered rhythm atop recorded vocals, sending the music bouncing off the walls of the Towers and Cleo buildings. Their movements were mesmerizing and energetic, fast footwork rippling their skirts, but they were no match for the dancers’ stage presence. The women looked at one another as they performed, effusing their joy in dancing together and sharing it with the world.
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble closed the show with a piece perfectly defining ‘festival.’ The excerpt of Bamboula: Musicians’ Brew began with one dancer in solo. The impending evening had draped the stage in dramatic darkness, and a light drizzle threatened to overpower the performance, but stage lights slowly illuminated the soloist’s movements. Momentum grew as the rest of the company joined and the jazz score began to build. The rain stopped as if playing a part in the theatrics. The dancers, dressed in yellow and red suits accented with sequins, wore black hoods that covered their faces, giving the impression of androgyny and anonymity. This piece was, simply put, a highly choreographed New Orleans-style celebration. Millicent Johnnie’s choreography fully embodied the joy of movement. The performance would look at home in any Mardi Gras parade, but with such highly trained dancers, it was anything but amateurish. Dancers criss-crossed the stage, their matching costumes and covered faces causing audience members to lose track of any single performer’s identity. Instead, the group appeared to grow endlessly. Occasional solos with tambourines and pink umbrellas gave the impression that the dancers were taking turns leading a second line. Momentum grew until the dancers looked like they were experiencing a sort of exorcism, as if there was too much joy to be contained in their bodies.
The Mile High Dance Festival was an overwhelming success for Cleo Parker Robinson, the participating dance companies, and the city as a whole. Denver should be truly proud to host this event of global celebration.
Ali Weeks: Ali is a professional dancer, Pilates instructor, and writer. She grew up in the Chicago area, studying dance and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, Ali spent four years in San Francisco pursuing her dance career, teaching Pilates, and exploring her passion for writing. She moved to Denver in February 2016, where she continues to dance and teach Pilates. In addition to her contributions to Presenting Denver, Ali writes for SF-based Pilates studio OnPointe Training and Denver-based nonprofit Threads Worldwide.