Chicago’s Ballet 5:8 Brings Denver-Area Ballerina Home with Performance

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Lauren Ader-Cumpston, a Conifer-native and one of Ballet 5:8’s lead artists, returns home to perform “The Stor(ies) of You and Me”next month. Courtesy Ballet 5:8/Facebook

Let’s get right to the pointe: Ballet 5:8, the Chicago-based dance company, returns to Denver March 25 for a single performance of “The Stor(ies) of You and Me” at 7 p.m. at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre, 119 Park Ave. W. The varied program explores love, the power of words, unexpected joy and the stories of everyday people. The performance also marks a homecoming for two of the company’s 12 professional dancers, including Lauren Ader-Cumpston, a Conifer-native and one of Ballet 5:8’s lead artists. We recently chatted with the ballerina, talking about her dancing roots, love for this show and Colorado.

(Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for students and seniors and $12 for children 12 and younger at ballet58.org and 312.725.4752. Performances will conclude with an interactive panel discussion with Ballet 5:8 artistic director Julianna Slager and Ballet 5:8 company artists.)

When did you start dancing?
My mom put me in dance class when I was 3 at Peak Academy of Dance in Conifer. When I was 13 I had a ballet teacher tell me I had an opportunity to go further in ballet, but I needed to train with a more advanced company. So, I started dancing with Nikoloz Makhateli, who was with David Taylor Dance Theater at the time—that’s when I decided to focus on classical ballet.

Why did you decide to become a dancer?
I was never the kid who said “I’m going to be a professional ballerina when I grow up.” I just really liked to dance, so I just kept dancing. In college, I studied physical therapy at UC Denver and danced with Nikoloz on the side. I came to a point where I had to decide if I wanted to pursue physical therapy or dance. It was difficult because I really like both. But, I decided to pursue dance while I’m young. That’s when I really went for it.

Are you glad you chose dance rather than physical therapy?
Yes, absolutely. This is right where I need to be. I don’t think I had the foresight at the time I made the decision, but it was the right choice.

What is Ballet 5:8?
Ballet 5:8 is a Chicago-based dance company that started five years ago. We’ve grown a lot in that time. The main mission of our company is to present dance that is excellent, breathtaking and progressive. We aim to approach dance with a faith-based perspective. It’s meant to open up discussion about different topics that aren’t talked about much these days.

What’s the concept and message behind “The Stor(ies) of You and Me”?

“The Stor(ies) of You and Me” is based on a piece that was choreographed by Caleb Mitchell, our guest choreographer—this piece is the inspiration for the entire program. It’s about four women who look very put together and demure on the outside. As the piece progresses, we peal back the layers of each woman and discover her real story, the rawness of her individuality and the struggles she’s gone through. The idea is to communicate that we all experience pain and hardship. There’s more depth to the perfect image people present on the outside. We need community to help us walk through life’s difficulties. We can’t just keep trudging through the muck and mire on our own.

Overall, the show is about different stories and how they shape us. For example, “Before the Vows” is about a couple falling in love and their engagement—it’s really light-hearted and happy. There are also more intense stories like “Ripple Effect,” which is about gossip and the way words can cause damage and create a ripple effect within a community. There’s a lot of variety within the show, but each piece is about how different stories shape us into unique human beings.

What’s the most difficult part of performing these pieces?
Physically, “Surprised by Joy” takes a lot of stamina and strength. The movement in “The Stor(ies) of You and Me” is really different from the way my body naturally likes to move, so it’s been really good to challenge what feels good for my body. This program is really emotionally challenging because I have to make sure my character in each piece is succinct and different from the other pieces. It’s difficult to switch personalities from piece to piece.

Which piece is your favorite one to perform?
That’s really difficult because I love all of them. I think the most fun to perform is “Before the Vows.” I feel really relaxed with the piece’s movement and story line.

What do you love so much about this performance?
We recently gained a lot of company members and brought in a lot of talented people. I think a big reason as to why I love this performance so much is because I’ve gotten to work with these new, talented people and see the talents of each person put to really good use within the choreography. It’s really great to see everyone shine in their individual talents.

How do you feel about performing in your home state?
Oh, I’m so excited. I think a lot of dancers get nervous when they come home—there’s something about knowing the people in the audience that makes performers nervous. But, I love having everybody there. My family and friends who live in Colorado don’t get to see me perform that often, so it’s nice that they get to see this part of my life.

Why should people see “The Stor(ies) of You and Me?”
There’s something for everyone. With such variety in the pieces, you’ll find something you can relate to. All the pieces leave you with something to think about. It’s beautiful to watch, but it also provokes deep thinking about these topics. I like to watch art when it’s more than just something nice—I like it when I have something to chew on afterward. I think the show definitely provides that.

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