Cleo Parker Robinson marks its 50th anniversary with digital present


The instances, they had been a-roilin’. Twentysomethings Cleo Parker Robinson, a choreographer, and Schyleen Qualls, her dance ensemble co-artistic director, had been feeling artistically jazzed by the activism within the early 1970s.
“We obtained our afros. We had been sporting African garments,” Qualls recalled on the telephone from San Francisco. “We had been completely in the course of the Black Energy motion as artists.”
On Saturday, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance marks its 50th anniversary with “Out of the Field,” a reprise (of kinds) of two works that seize that generative second — and converse to this one.

To look at
“Out of the Field,” a Cleo Parker Robinson Dance digital occasion, is Aug. 22 at eight p.m.; streaming Aug. 22-28. Ticket and information at

The primary, “Lush Life,” was a collaboration between Parker Robinson and poet and buddy Maya Angelou, who had been a dancer. The second, “Run Sister Run,” was impressed by Nikki Giovanni’s “A Poem of Angela Davis,” written in honor of the activist-social thinker when she was incarcerated at New York’s Ladies’s Home of Detention.
Their reprise on the Arvada Heart — even just about — is auspicious: Every premiered there.
The return can be digital, in fact.  The hyperlink can be lively from the night of Aug. 22 to Aug. 28. And, in fact, this wasn’t the way it was purported to be. (What number of instances have you ever heard or thought that since March?)
“First, my mind couldn’t even think about it,” Parker Robinson mentioned throughout a video name, referring to the arrival of the coronavirus earlier than CPRD’s 50th anniversary. “I assumed, ‘There’s not going to be a tour; there gained’t be live shows; there gained’t be the academy (the corporate’s dance faculty). There gained’t be a celebration.’ “
However an arts group doesn’t flip 50, doesn’t develop into a touchstone cultural establishment, doesn’t obtain the Mayor’s Award for Excellence within the Arts with out working via adversity.
“She has just one pace,” says Qualls of her one-time collaborator and long-time buddy. “That’s full pace forward. There have been instances when the corporate had no cash and folks would say, ‘Perhaps we should always pause.’ However she doesn’t know ‘pause.’ “
“I’ve obtained my monitor sneakers on,” Parker Robinson mentioned when she hopped on a Zoom name.  “Run sister run,” certainly.
In 1983, filmmaker Margie Soo Hoo Lee documented the making of the Angela Davis piece. As Davis, Parker Robinson geese and dodges via Denver’s streets, then promptly vanishes, because of the magic of spliced movie. Watching the younger dancer — sporting a delicate afro, denims and a denim jacket — could elicit a smile for the earnest gestures and tough tech. However seeing Parker Robinson stroll arm and arm on a snowy Vail lane with legend Gordon Parks (creator of “The Studying Tree,”  Life Journal photographer, director and composer of “Shaft”) is one thing to behold. And Lee’s documentary has an archival magnetism that pulls within the viewer.
In a voice-over, Parker Robinson tells Parks of her plans to make Cleo Park Robinson Dance as well-known as Vail and Aspen. In worldwide dance circles, it very practically is. Her ideas about choreographing the piece are startlingly modern. “I really feel as a choreographer, as a black lady, I have to say one thing. That’s my software,” Parker Robinson says within the movie, leaning on the piano the place Parks sits at work on music for the piece. In rehearsal, Parker Robinson directs three dancers who painting girls Davis recalled from her time in jail. The actions are vivid: a dancer changing into unhinged in solitary; a 14-year-old experiencing heroin withdrawal; and a pregnant lady in duress.
The Black Dwell Matter protests of the summer season reverberate with the period that solid “Run Sister Run.”
“Are we moving into circles right here?” Parker Robinson replied, when requested about these echoes.  ”Have we regressed?”
Whereas the systemic brutality that referred to as forth the summer season’s protests feels too acquainted, the vitality of the work comes from a distinct connectivity, a deeper communal consciousness. “We perceive that we’re standing on the shoulders of those that got here earlier than us. At all times.”
A kind of figures was her father, Johnathan “J.P” Parker, supervisor of Colorado Ladies’s Faculty’s Houston Positive Arts Heart and the primary Black actor on the Bonfils Theatre underneath legendary producer Henry Lowenstein.

Whereas Parker Robinson absorbed classes from her father’s work in theater, Qualls — additionally a local of Denver — had been absorbing the artistic calls for of nurturing artmaking on the influential Negro Ensemble Firm in New York Metropolis. When Qualls returned to Colorado and met Parker Robinson, the duo noticed the probabilities, mentioned Qualls.
“We simply determined, ‘OK, let’s begin a severe firm.’ We had been in our early twenties. We’re dreamers. We had numerous religion.”
For nearly everything of the ensemble’s first decade, Qualls emceed the present, carried out poetry between the items and generally in them. She’ll seem within the Angelou position in “Out of the Field.”
“I by no means thought this could possibly be a automobile that would actually deliver us collectively, as a result of I’ve been a bodily, bodily particular person,” Parker Robinson mentioned of the know-how that’s preserving the humanities in contact with audiences lately.“We had been like, ‘Omigod, how are we going to do that?’ I’ve been choreographing for over 60 years. All know is contact the physique or transfer the physique. That is going to be actually troublesome and actually painful.”
It has been at instances. However as soon as the corporate began going digital, she realized a number of the issues the corporate had been eager to check out had been issues she’d been eager to do for a very long time. “We are able to attain a bigger viewers.”
Whereas “Out of the Field” gained’t be reside, it ought to show chockful: Along with “Run Sister Run” and “Lush Life” footage (with Qualls within the Angelou position), there can be solos from the ensemble’s “LaNina” and the beautiful “Mourners Bench”; interviews with Robinson, Qualls and “Run Sister Run” director Lee; and chats with CPRD soloists Tyvese Littlejohn and Chloe-Grant Abel.
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