Kim Robards and her dancers are putting movement to stories of war, the pandemic and mass shooting survivors

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A scene from the five-dance performance “Reveal” presented by Kim Robards, July 2 at the Hangar at Stanley.
Provided photo by Stan Obert

There are some life experiences that are hard to express in words. For Kim Robards, dance is a window into feeling the emotion of life events that can be difficult to process in more straightforward ways.

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

That ethos was on display Saturday night at The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, where Kim Robards Dance presented “Reveal,” the culmination of its summer intensive. The five-dance performance included a piece about COVID-19, a new piece Robards choreographed about Ukraine, and “Aurora,” a tribute to the victims of the Aurora theater shooting almost 10 years ago. After the performance, dancers and the audience had a moment of silence for the 12 people who were killed July 20, 2012.

The company’s summer season included performances at the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Ballet Theater, and a weeklong residency at 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 dancers vying for a place in the company’s upcoming 38th season.

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

“We do not look at 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 movable seating that will allow the area to open up to be used as an events center. Along with serving as the new home for Kim Robards Dance, it can be used by other cultural organizations who need a place for classes, performances and other events.

The inspiration for “Aurora” came about after Kim Robards Dance moved into the arts district in 2013, not long after the theater shooting. The first movement of the piece was inspired by hearing a musical score on Colorado Public Radio while driving down Colfax in June of 2013, Robards said. There was a person on a bicycle driving down the street in tempo with the music, and the sense of people going about their day with such a lightness of being struck her as particularly poignant.

That’s the energy the choreographed piece starts out with (there’s even a dancer riding a bicycle across the stage). The second part of the piece then utilizes historic Denver auditorium theater chairs 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 intended to help represent the emotions of the tragedy, Robards said. She intended for the piece to speak to the horror of the shooting but also point to the strength and courage of the victims.

“We carry these people’s spirits with us but our way of honoring them is to move with joy and resilience through life,” she said.

The piece has struck a nerve with audiences ever since it was first performed, and people regularly inquire about it, Robards said. Saturday’s performance included the debut of another choreographed piece that was similarly affecting. Provisionally titled “Ukraine,” the 15-minute dance is a representation of the struggles that millions of Ukrainians are currently facing as they decide whether to stay in their homes or to flee the war. 

“It explores that challenge that the people of Ukraine must be feeling,” said dancer and KRD executive director LaRana Skalicky. “Am I staying here? Am I staying and hiding, or staying and fighting? Or am I leaving for a new country where I know no one?”

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

All of KRD’s dancers are trained in several forms of dance, including modern, jazz, ballet and folklorico. Along with being talented artists, all the dancers are world-class athletes as well, Robards said. Her choreography includes jumps, lifts and other physically taxing elements not at all in line with the wishy-washy view some people might have of the art form.

“I think people think modern dance it’s just standing and pretending you’re a tree,” she said. “We go far beyond that.”

By blending technical, physical and expressive elements, Robards’ goal is to allow viewers to create their own story about the action onstage and to bring their own life experiences to bear on their perceptions. Nobody should have to be a trained critic or well-versed in dance to get something 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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