Kim Robards and her dancers set stories of war, pandemic and mass shooting survivors in motion

A scene from the five-dance show “Reveal” presented by Kim Robards, July 2 at the Stanley Hangar.
Photo courtesy of Stan Obert

Jhere are some life experiences that are hard to put into words. For Kim Robards, dance is a window to feel the emotion of life events that can be difficult to process in an easier way.

“Our goal in modern dance is to transform an audience and allow them to be introspective and explore their own emotions,” Robards told The Sentinel.

That ethos was on display Saturday night at The Hangar in Stanley Marketplace, where Kim Robards Dance performed “Reveal,” the culmination of her intensive summer. The five-dance show included a piece about COVID-19, a new piece choreographed by Robards about Ukraine and “Aurora,” a tribute to the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting nearly 10 years ago. After the show, the dancers and audience held a moment of silence for the 12 people killed on July 20, 2012.

The company’s summer season included performances at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Ballet Theater, as well as a week-long residency in Stanley where visitors were invited to watch the company rehearse. Saturday’s performance was the culmination of their efforts and served as the final audition for the dancers vying for a spot in the company’s upcoming 38th season.

Kim Robards Dance has been based in the Aurora Cultural Arts District since 2013, but will soon be moving to a new location at the tip of Denver and Adams County at 48th and Pecos. The company will move in August and plans to officially open in the new space by mid-September, but Robards said it will still be very active in Arapahoe County.

“We don’t see our move as leaving Aurora behind at all,” she said.

The new 17,800 square foot building will be easily accessible from I-70 and will feature a full-size stage and moveable seating that will allow the area to open up for use as an event center. In addition to serving as a new home for Kim Robards Dance, it can be used by other cultural organizations that need a venue for classes, performances and other events.

The inspiration for “Aurora” came about after Kim Robards Dance moved into the Arts District in 2013, shortly after filming the theater. The piece’s first movement was inspired by listening to a musical score on Colorado Public Radio during the Colfax raid in June 2013, Robards said. There was a person on a bicycle riding down the street to the beat of the music, and the sense that people went about their day with such lightness struck her as particularly poignant.

This is the energy with which the choreographed piece begins (there is even a dancer riding a bicycle on the stage). The second part of the piece then uses historic theater chairs from the Denver Auditorium that have been mounted on wooden platforms, which the dancers incorporate to symbolically represent the theater.

The piece doesn’t tell a literal story but is meant to help portray the emotions of the tragedy, Robards said. She wanted the play to speak of the horror of the shooting but also of the strength and courage of the victims.

“We carry the spirit of these people with us, but our way of honoring them is to move forward with joy and resilience in life,” she said.

The play has touched audiences since its first performance, and people regularly inquire about it, Robards said. Saturday’s performance included the start of another choreographed piece that was similarly affecting. Tentatively titled “Ukraine,” the 15-minute dance is a depiction of the struggles millions of Ukrainians currently face as they decide to stay home or flee war.

“It explores this challenge that the Ukrainian people must feel,” said dancer and KRD executive director LaRana Skalicky. “Do I stay here? Do I stay and hide, or do I stay and fight? Or am I leaving for a new country where I don’t know anyone?

The dance will be finalized for presentation in the upcoming season. Reflecting the real uncertainty of Ukraine’s fate, it ends on an ambiguous note.

All KRD dancers are trained in several dance forms, including modern dance, jazz, ballet and folklorico. In addition to being talented performers, all of the dancers are also world-class athletes, Robards said. His choreography includes jumps, lifts and other physically taxing elements that do not at all correspond to the tasteless view that some people might have of this art form.

“I think people think modern dance is just about standing up and pretending to be a tree,” she said. “We go way beyond that.”

By blending technical, physical and expressive elements, Robards goal is to allow viewers to create their own story about the action on stage and bring their own life experiences to influence their perceptions. No one should need to be a trained critic or know dance well to get anything meaningful out of modern dance.

“It’s a unique way for people to process our individual lives and everything that’s going on around us,” she said.

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