Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

Cleo on Cleo

Energy levels were high as audience members filed into the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance
Theater on Sunday, October 30th for the first post-pandemic performance of the annual Cleo on
Cleo showcase. As I settled into my seat and gazed around the theater, it felt more like a family
birthday party than a professional dance concert. I could feel the excitement and anticipation of
the audience members, many of whom seemed to be long-time followers and supporters of the
internationally renowned Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company. This unique concert provides
company members with the opportunity to choreograph and design lights, costumes, and music and share their work with local Denver audiences. While Cleo Parker Robinson’s company
members are incredible technicians and performers, this show confirmed that they are also
mature choreographers and artists, and it provided a heartwarming example of the important
role community plays in establishing a safe space to create and share art.

The show highlighted a variety of dance styles and pieces ranging from solos to group works, and you could feel the passion and hearts of the dancers and choreographers in each one. In the opening classical pointe duet titled What is Love, choreographer Tyveze Littlejohn explored all facets of love with her tactful incorporation of flawless, fluid partnering elements that made you feel how both partners in a relationship must support and hold each other up at times. The company’s versatility in technique styles was put on full display with the transition to Ralaya Goshea’s Muliebrity (The first Journey), a quartet that incorporated African-inspired movements to explore themes of female strength and empowerment. The grounded and full-bodied movements clearly demonstrated the power and strength of each female dancer. I loved watching them take up the entire stage, washing over it like a storm and making me want to jump in with them.

The choreographers also artfully employed various lighting and design elements to enhance the
emotional impacts of their pieces. Martez McKinzy’s duet Torn explored identities in
relationships by using the space and lighting to highlight the struggles in relationships of being
both alone and together. During the moments where the dancers broke away from each other, I
could feel them build their strength in their own rings of warm light as they discovered their
own identities, but they always went back to each other. The ending was very moving, as the
female dancer launched herself on stage to collapse around her male partner. You could feel her
deep need for support as she sunk her weight over him, and it reminded me of moments in my
life where I have felt comfort in accepting support from others. Rack and Rain also played with
this idea of being torn between two opposing forces through its use of costuming elements that
allowed disembodied hands to extend onto the stage and manipulate the female protagonist.
The constant back and forth and tossing around reminded me of the voices in my head
whenever I’m conflicted about something. Finally, in Amyg, Chloe Abel barely moved across the
stage. However, when the light came up on her, warm and radiant, and she just slowly turned in
a circle, angling her head to create an air of mystery, my breath stopped in my chest. Many
dancers are taught to move fast, but this dancer fully understood the power of slow movement,
and I was captivated all the way through.

The performers were incredibly connected throughout every single piece, and this added an authenticity to the entire show. The dancers weren’t performing; they were living through each moment and emotion on that stage.

All the duets had incredible chemistry between the performers, and the way in which they gave their weight to each other emphasized the level of trust between them. I was equally impressed in the group pieces where the dancers fluidly navigated the balance between group movement qualities and individuality. I loved how in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vest, the dancers used breath cues to initiate large shifts on stage. When dance always follows the music, it can become predictable and slightly monotonous. With breath cues, the initiating dancer must sense the company and energy on stage to decide when to cue the group, and this adds a layer of humanity to the piece and reminds the audience that they are living through the same moments as the dancers. This makes the piece more relatable, which is one the big goals of all performing arts.

Cleo Parker Robinson reinforced this power of live performance by coming out on stage after
the show to thank and highlight the company and remind us of the importance of art in our
everyday lives. After a few years of social distancing and no performing arts shows, the
audience needed to hear this passion and encouragement, and Cleo made that happen. It was
also clear through watching the company members interact on stage that they truly are a family
and support each other both in and out of the studio. I loved seeing this sense of compassion
and friendship, and I left the theater excited to see the company’s next show and become a part
of this welcoming community.

Gabrielle Welsh
Presenting Denver Writer & Editorial Board

Gabrielle is a graduate from the University of Maryland- College Park where she earned
a BA in dance and a BS in ecology and evolutionary biology. During her four years
there, she performed in works by Ping Chong, Leslie Felbain, Alvin Mayes, Orange
Grove Dance Theater, and Pearson Widrig Dance Theater. She moved to NYC after
graduation where she performed with the 92nd Street Y Musical Theater Development
Lab, Mary Seidman, and Nicole Colbert Dance/Theater. She is very excited to continue
her dance journey in Denver!