IMPACT Dance Company http://impactdancecompany.com/ is a Fort Collins based modern dance theater company that utilizes text and multimedia elements to create relevant works that speak to the audience in an intimate and interesting language. Upon meeting artistic director Judy Bejarano, I was struck by her humility and gentle grace. The female dancers who graced the stage were generous in how much of themselves they gave to this poignant work. They were swift and clear with their movement; dancers who elevate the level of the arts in Colorado. IMPACT experiences are known for their reinvention of space and for employing multiple spaces that their audiences traverse. As a scene changes, and a theme develops and unfolds, so does the audience, thus becoming an integral part of the message and the energy of the project.
Frida! appeared at, and was presented by the Fort Collins Museum of Art (FCMOA) on a gorgeous and warm October weekend (10/28-10/30, 2016). The quaint streets of this small Colorado college town were buzzing with young, fresh faces and the bubbly feeling of a Saturday night that has passed midterms and is headed toward finals was evident.
I approached 201 South College Ave. in Old Town Fort Collins http://www.ftcma.org/visit/ to find the FCMOA housed in the Old Post Office building, a three-story Second Renaissance Revival structure. The small, two-room gallery was accented with yellow, orange, and red walls and the exhibition that acted as the inspiration and the backdrop for the IMPACT dancers was Frida Kahlo: Through the lens of Nikolas Muray.
Judy Bejarano created her version of the story of Frida Kahlo’s life with both recorded and live bilingual (Spanish-English) text, music, and movement. The story begins with Casa Azul, in which a beautiful ballerina in a navy-blue dress whirls to a blur and then glides to perfect line in the intimate space with the audience flanking three sides and photos of Frida on the fourth. She dances the dance of a young girl, de una jovencita traviesa, naughty, mischievous, restless, and lively. This opening piece poses the question, “How do you see the world?”.
The Bus Series followed, a piece in three parts. First Accident began with a long bench holding five incarnations of Frida who danced an exquisite slow motion reenactment of the horrific bus accident that left Frida in the group of victims unlikely to survive. The dancers, dressed in braids and earth tones, tumbled about each other rocked and rumpled by the crash. Inventory of Breakage was a brilliant description of injuries to live spoken text. The choreography showed the weakness of a compromised physical facility and the pain of deep wounds through contraction and anti-positions as the audience was walked through the fractures, dislocation, vulnerability, and juxtaposition of Frida’s parts. After the Bus was a wailing solo that brought us even closer to the pain of the tragedy as the dancer performed the discovery of a broken body and the pain of recovery with audible exertion and effort.
Least Favorite Life was an ethereal and dreamy feminine memory to the music of Lera Lynn. As a dancer, I felt so comfortably nestled in the presence of professionals whose performance quality, style, and perfected technique carried me to where they were, in the surreal subconscious of healing. It was an angelic, floating gesture of blessings, de bendiciones. Something special happened in the healing space and Frida Began to Paint brought light. This was a trio of dancers in primary colored dresses that celebrated rebirth. From tragedy comes passion as the dancers represent Frida’s climb from darkness through the vibrant music of Eric Miller and visions of linear, sweeping choreography, emergent and joyful, even spotted with ideas of whimsy; smiles dawn on the faces of the dancers.
The audience transitioned to the second room of the gallery and the dancers reappeared with flowers in their braids and parrot colored, draping, playful dresses. More bilingual text brought Mis Pericos. Mis Pericos alludes to Frida’s beloved pet parrots as well as the famous self-portrait entitled Yo y mis pericos. This quartet was whimsical with mini explosions of flight and flutters of life force. It was danced to a Cumbia, filled with life, laughter, and love.
The Elephant and the Dove was the story of Frida’s marriage to Diego Rivera, famous Mexican muralist. This dance showed the swooning goodness of love that is good for you, until it’s bad. It was danced in simple white as a love affair with an overcoat that represented Diego. Two Fridas is about loving and losing, joy and pain, a woman rebroken, not her body, but her heart. This powerful pas de deux showed the lacing together of two women, the intertwining of selves that we easily deny ourselves outside of art. It is the struggle of loving oneself while simultaneously losing and finding oneself.
Diary is a group piece, still in simple white with flowered braids, of gestural choreography that tells the story of Frida returning to the hospital in 1950 to have her right leg amputated. The text educates that here, fraught with pain, her self-portraits turn to still life as she turns to drugs, alcohol, and overly amorous behavior, “amó de plenitud”. In Wings to Fly dancers in long flowing skirts strew flowers about the space as one lone Frida faces away from the audience, gazing toward a wall, considering the question, “Why do I need feet?”.
“13 de julio, 1954, la vida de Frida terminó donde empezó” en la Casa Azul. July 13, 1954, the life of Frida ended where it began, in the blue house. Gracias a la Vida was danced as a celebration of life as the window through which Frida Kahlo viewed the world began to close. The dancers were vibrant and authentic as they honored this important Mexican tradition for finding freedom in death. Judy Bejarano, Artistic Director of IMPACT Dance Company wrote, “My research revealed a woman of such contradiction…a woman who rose above physical calamities that would have sidelined someone of lesser fortitude”. “As the creative process unfolded, this evening became a selected biography of Frida, portrayed through movement and narration”. This biography honored and revived Frida as the window for Día de los Muertos began to open in 2016. The Mexican culture believes that we die three deaths: The first one is when the heart ceases to beat, the second when the body is lowered into the earth, and the third when no one remains who remembers you. Thank you, Judy Bejarano and IMPACT Dance Company, for keeping Frida Kahlo alive.
Shelly Chapple Clements was raised in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish Country. She was drawn to the city of Pittsburgh through dance at the young age of 9 and never looked back. Her dance education took her from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, to the National Academy of Arts in Champagne-Urbana, IL. Shelly returned east and graduated from the renowned Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts after which she enjoyed a professional modern dance career in San Francisco from 1990-2002. She is a master instructor for young dancers and currently teaches ballet in Littleton and Highlands Ranch and is the Artistic Director of Youth Programs for DAMAGEDANCE. Shelly has been a Colorado resident since 2002 and holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Spanish Interpretation and Translation, Hispanic Literature, and Theatre Dance from Colorado Mesa University, and attended the master’s program at the School of Education and Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. Her passion for writing gives voice to the dancer who speaks not on the stage.