At 7 tonight at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall, Denver's Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble will perform as part of the college's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. The show will include new and older pieces from the company, as well as a performance by the Gospel Music Workshop of America Choir, under the direction of Rev. Dennis Mose and Rev. Anthony Bell. The show is free; learn more here.
I recently spoke with Robinson, who founded the internationally known troupe 42 years ago. Here are a few snippets from our 45-minute-long conversation that are particularly meaningful today, as we celebrate King, along with President Obama's inauguration:
Indy: Your philosophy is "One Spirit, Many Voices." What does that mean to you?
CPR: It really is about celebrating everyone, giving everyone the opportunity to feel celebrated, and everyone’s voices heard. It’s really about celebrating inclusivity … having that voice of all, and yet having a shared common goal. We do it in our classes, we do it in our performances across the country and around the world. We just did it in [Denver] … we had 500 kids on stage, doing ballet and modern and jazz and African and hip-hop — showing the diversity of movement, and as we show that, we show the diversity of people. And it really is just a great thing.
Indy: Your bio is laden with awards and honors. What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
CPR: I think it is about having people find the joy in the moment and coming together with others and really learning to really see each other and respect one another. ... It’s just such a treat for me, to experience it over and over and over again. No matter where I am, or what we’re doing, if we’re doing concerts or we’re doing workshops, or I’m speaking, classes, it doesn’t matter. I see it happen all the time. I think it’s just that humanitarian element of really experiencing the arts and empowering others to really find out how to share, and share the planet in a way that’s quite meaningful.
Indy: Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream. What's your dream?
CPR: Well, I think it is, I think I share it. My father’s birthday is around that time, it’s January the 20th, and all of my life we’ve been celebrating Dr. King’s life, so it’s something that is really embedded in our philosophy and family and so on. ...
My dream is to see people really live in this country, I guess in America and also in the world, in a way that is just really about allowing us to celebrate. Really celebrate. I’ve learned how to do that. To share our common interests, but to also see where we are diverse, where we are different. We grow up with maybe different languages, different religions, different cultures, different races, different ways of seeing life. But at the same time, no matter what that is, we always have that common human bond of sharing. Even in a time of sadness, to share those things that create a sense of empathy. ...
Even though I’m a choreographer and a dancer and an artist, I’m always concerned about social justice. And I think that’s because I grew up very much valuing that. I think that’s part of what I hope I can bring to others, is that sense of "What does civil rights mean? What does it mean to have the opportunities?" To sort of open up, to see not everyone has the same opportunities and to know how blessed you are, but at the same time how to re-create equality as much as we can.