She's been a bright star in Denver and Colorado for years and the glow of her accomplishments has been seen around the globe. Cleo Parker Robinson, founder, executive artistic director and choreographer for the Dance Ensemble and School bearing her name, is once again bringing a wealth of dance and culture to Denver.
Upon being asked how the annual International Summer Dance Institute first started, Cleo pauses for what seems like a tremendously long time, before answering. The program goes back only 14 years, but her reply comes from many years prior. She worked in Hawaii for a few years, learning her craft and thrilling audiences with her dramatic program, “Dancing on the Edge,” in which she literally danced on the edge of a live volcano. She soaked up every culture with which she came into contact, and took to heart the spirit of “aloha” (a Hawaiian word with many translations, used as a greeting, farewell and a general concept) and “ohana” (which means family). She became not only a dancer but a humanitarian.
Bringing the spirit back to the mainland and having the opportunity to work with such greats as Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison, Cleo began to realize the importance of bringing dance down from the elitist arena where it resided for generations, to make it available to the community. And for Cleo, “community” is not delineated by squiggly line boundaries on a map. Her community is all encompassing; the globe is her community. She believes in the importance of bringing dance to people of all ages, creeds and colors, all shapes and sizes, education levels and backgrounds.
In its 14th year, the annual International Summer Dance Institute – One Spirit Many Voices - again brings together master artists, instructors and performers, each internationally renowned, from the United States and the far reaches of the globe. They join students in Denver for a short time to participate in a cultural exchange and teach a myriad of dance techniques.
Inspired by the work and techniques of Dunham, the “dancing anthropologist,” Cleo insists the dance institute is all-inclusive and instruction is provided for children and adults, regardless of skill level. Classes take place over a four-week period with intensive training in the morning and early afternoon, geared to the serious, intermediate to advanced student aged 13 and older. Equally intensive classes are offered each evening for the beginning to intermediate level student.
A Children’s Day Camp is scheduled for students 5 through 12 the week before the other classes begin. The children’s camp includes supervision and support by a team of faculty, staff, volunteers and the dance ensemble members. While the day camp will be finished by this printing, the institute will be ongoing through July 18.
“Children are so open,” says Cleo, “much more so than adults.”
While children enjoy the activities, it takes adults longer to get beyond their tendency toward self-consciousness. Important to the learning process is the ability to share it with others. Therefore, interspersed in the four-week program, Performance Showcases provide students the opportunity to show off what they have learned, in a theater setting for an appreciative audience. The performances are scheduled Saturday, June 28, Thursday, July 3, and Fridays, July 11 and 18 at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre. A special performance will also be presented at the Denver Black Arts Festival on Saturday, July 12.
Cleo firmly believes in building self-confidence and self-esteem, learning to respect one’s self and all others. Learning about other cultures also prepares children and young adults to interact with a world that becomes smaller every minute. An important aspect of the dance institute is the opportunity to meet the master artists, and hear them speak about their “journey in dance and life” in Cultural Dialogues. These give participants and others the chance to talk to professionals about their experiences, and perhaps for the serious career-minded to get direction and advice. These dialogues, scheduled July 7-9 and July 14-18, are free and open to the public, allowing a true cultural exchange.
This year’s dance institute features 15 dancers from the United States, Haiti, India and West Africa. Their talents, education and accomplishments are far too numerous to cite here. During their stay in Denver, they’ll share their expertise in modern dance with the techniques of Horton and Dunham, jazz, ballet, ballroom, the rhythms of Haiti, the grace of India, the percussions of Africa and the energy of American Hip Hop.
As is an annual tradition, Cleo will hold auditions for professional dancers, men and women, on Saturday, July 19 for performing and apprentice positions in her dance ensemble. While technical ability and talent is important, Cleo is also looking for people who share in her vision and the vision of Ailey, Dunham and others like them. Members of Cleo’s dance troupe must also believe in the concept of bringing the world to the community. In her description, dance requires “discipline, dedication, devotion and passion;” and surrounding yourself with people who have the same passion.
In explaining what keeps her motivated, Cleo replies, “We all need to take care of each other and music brings people together – heals physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s all about love and the need to feel connected, loved and valued.”
Editor’s note: For more information on classes, fees, schedules, performances or auditions, contact Cleo Parker Robinson Dance at 119 Park Avenue West, Denver, Colorado 80205, or call 303-295-1759. For more information about programs available year-round for children and adults (Cleo Parker Robinson Dance School, Season of Schools Healing Power of Art, AYE and Senior Lively Arts), visit online at www.cleoparkerdance.com.