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Preview: Life/Art Dance Ensemble Ten Years Later…

May 18-19

By Jennifer Arnone 


Life/Art Dance Ensemble will be presenting a retrospective show to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Ten Years Later...will be performed May 18-19 at the DL Parsons Theater in Northglenn. In addition to the performances, they are also offering free community dance classes on Saturday, May 18 from 5:30-6:30 pm, and on Sunday, May 19 from 1-2 pm. You can sign up for the class when you purchase tickets online at Life/Art Dance Ensemble.  


If you haven’t been following Life/Art Dance Ensemble’s biannual performances over the past ten years, no worries. This retrospective is a perfect opportunity to get a taste of their lighthearted, thoughtful fare. The show is a highlight reel of the company’s favorite pieces and excerpts from a decade of dance, impressively built with 15 pieces, including a new work in collaboration with Park Hill Dance Collective. A newbie to the company myself, I attended a final studio run, and found myself wishing I had been onto them all this time.


The pieces are loosely tied together via theme, and showcase the ballet-informed contemporary style of choreographers Jessica Riggs, Michelle Bernier, Karleen Quackenbush, and Megan Roney. The choreography is highlighted by the dancers’ long, balletic extensions, peppered with modern drops and releases, plenty of inversion, floorwork, and original gesture. There is considerable variety, from solos and duets, to small group pieces and full company pieces. Props are employed meaningfully. Music covers a wide spread, from classical to Aphex Twin, to Imogen Heap, live cello by Adam Riggs, recitation of the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, and original music by their many musical collaborators, including Austen composer Russell Podgorsek. Thirteen pieces into the viewing, my 7-year-old viewing companion was excitedly bouncing in her seat, inspired by the large lifts and full-out big-stage movement. We missed seeing a dance film, and the final collaborative new work, which were not part of the rehearsal. There is much to keep your attention riveted throughout the evening.


The program guide offers insight into the inspiration and meaning within each piece. As each dance is an excerpt of a larger body of work, I appreciated getting a deeper look into the genesis of these pieces. Some pieces are thoughtful, and others playful. Everything is served with a light, cool air that invites the viewer in. The overall attitude of the collection feels upbeat, with quiet depth below the surface.  


I asked Jessica Riggs, the company’s founder and artistic director, what is her intention for the audience when viewing Ten Years Later.... She responded, “In a world climate that is so very serious and heavy, dance and other performing arts can help us cope and provide a reprieve. In this show, we hope our audience finds comfort, reassurance, and enjoyment. Interlaced within the program are bits of wisdom that we believe are important tenets of being human. It is our hope that the audience finds value in this as well.”


Making art more accessible, and collaborating with other artists are foundations upon which Riggs’ company is built. After Riggs graduated from CSU with a double major in Dance and Dietetics, she saw a need for high-quality entertainment for the elderly population she was serving as a dietitian for the Volunteers of America Healthy Aging Program. She also saw a need for dancers like herself, with professions outside of dance, to have class and rehearsal time that didn’t interfere with a full-time work schedule. To meet these dual needs, Riggs founded Life/Art Dance Ensemble, which received 501(c)3 status in 2009. The company brings professional dance with live accompaniment and education to seniors in subsidized housing with their Cultural Experiences for Seniors program. The program has reached over 2,000 seniors along the Front Range since its inception.


In addition to performing for their elderly audiences, the company  produces two annual contemporary performances for public audiences. They enjoy collaborating with an array of artists, composers, videographers, and choreographers for these showings. More recently, the company has taken their work into non-traditional settings. These Out of Context presentations build dance audiences by bringing dance to those who may not venture into a theater. Wineries, breweries, pubs, and botanical gardens are a few of the offstage venues where you might catch a performance. 


The company shares the abundance of their success by organizing Convergence, a dance showcase in which local dance companies share the cost of showing work. Theater space, lighting, advertising and organizing shows are costly endeavors, as Riggs and her board of directors know. Convergence builds community within the world of dance, and gives a hand to smaller companies, who might not have the finances to show work on their own.


Yet another yearly offering is Life in Motion: A Dance Film Festival featuring Colorado-connected filmmakers, dancers, choreographers, and producers. The screening also gives dance/film aficionados a chance to support the Cultural Experiences for Seniors outreach program.


I asked Riggs’ “why should people see more dance?” Her answer: “Dance is the only art form in which the body is the instrument. It is therefore most accessible, most instinctive, most connected to other humans. It can also be so many things: thought provoking, beautiful, entertaining. Dance can inspire, uplift, improve mood, turn a person’s day around. Dance, like all performing arts, needs support in the form of viewership, or it will go away. And then where would we be? Likely in a world without butterflies and blue skies.” 


Life/Art Dance Ensemble is offering quite a lot along the Front Range to build community within the arts, build audiences, and bring dance to those who cannot access professional performances on their own. We can give back to them with our viewership. In return, we’ll receive those blue skies and butterflies that come from watching good dance.       

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