For nationally renowned San Francisco-based dancer and choreographer Sha Sha Higby, dance is less a series of choreographed movements than it is sculpture's method of travel. Higby's life-size sculptures become costumes when she climbs inside them and moves through space, warming their stillness into life.
"I want these pieces that are dead [when] hung, to come alive," she says. "The costume is a whole environment in itself. It's like being inside a birdhouse if you were a bird looking out, or being inside a cave, looking out."
Wood, silk, wire, lacquer and gypsum, a kind of plaster mixed with glue, are a few of Higby's staples for building props and costumes, and it can take up to three years of performances before one piece ceases to undergo aesthetic and structural transformations. For Higby, the process of creation aims to augment and exaggerate the human body's expression. Extra appendages such as wings or poles extend the original movements of Higby's own body.
Known for their surrealistic quality, Higby's performances have the capacity to unwrap and evoke an array of emotions. In fact, she envisions her dancing not only as the provocateur, but as the physical manifestation of, those emotions as they might exist in the world's negative space.
"The air around us is filled with unseen ornamentation. If anger or love had a shape or design that was flowing off people," she says, it might look something like what happens on stage.
In addition to building costumes, choreographing and dancing, Higby creates her own musical soundscapes, incorporating frog and cricket sounds, various instruments and her own voice. Audience members might even get a chance to participate in live improvisation, as Higby is known to drop instruments into laps in the front row.
"It is impossible to describe what Sha Sha does," says Donna Mejia, the festival director and Colorado College dance professor. "Her imagination is everything from bizarre to brilliant."
Higby will teach a workshop on dance and costume, and hopes to incorporate student sculptures into her solo performance. This year's workshops are expected to draw more than 100 participants from ages 13 to 87, with only about 5 percent from Colorado Springs. Stunning acts returning from last year include belly dancer Rachel Brice and acrobatic dancer Richard Hopkins Durnford.
"I cried through most of the performances last year," Mejia says. "I felt like it was history in the making."
Extraordinary Dance, featuring Sha Sha Higby
CC Armstrong Theatre, 14 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Tuesday, July 11, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $5; visit coloradocollege.edu or call 389-6098.