Executive Artistic Director: Cleo Parker Robinson

Cleo Parker Robinson is founder and executive artistic director of the Denver-based Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, established in 1970, now celebrating the start of its 51st anniversary season.

Photo by Paul Miller

As a master teacher/choreographer and cultural ambassador to both the national and international community, the iconic Cleo Parker Robinson leads an organization that encompasses the renowned Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, as well as Cleo II (her Second Company), Youth and Junior Youth Ensembles, an Academy of Dance, an International Summer Dance Institute, a 240-seat theatre, and a diversity of educational and community outreach programs. As an anchor in Denver’s coveted performing arts community, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (CPRD) was founded with the belief that the language of dance transcends the boundaries of culture, class, and age.

Tell us about your background.

Tell us about your background. “From the time I was a child, even though we had very little money, my amazing bi-racial parents always found ways to share the work of great artists with me. Whenever possible, I began studying with as many master teachers as I could. After traveling to New York, I knew that my goal was to bring that same level of artistic excellence to Denver—to afford students and audiences of every race and background the opportunity to study and to view the very best in dance, regardless of their financial situation. For over 50 years, we’ve never lost sight of our roots in the African-American traditions and the Diaspora.”

What inspires you?

“Creativity of any kind lifts my soul. The creative energy of children—and our amazing young people—is so empowering and gives me great joy. The wisdom of our elders is [also] powerful—and is a legacy that I strive to preserve, not only through my own works but those of other choreographers as well. It is crucial that we never lose sight of legacy and history—and that both are preserved with accuracy and true insight.”

STORYTELLING ON STAGE: Cleo’s most recent masterwork MOVE/ment is a performance that contrasts the civil rights movement of 60 years ago with our current era. Photo by Mike Watson

What is the mission behind CPRD?

“Wherever we teach or perform, we consider ourselves to be Ambassadors of the Peace, Love, and Respect. We come with the intention to bring beauty and promote healing of mind, body, and spirit. We believe dance and music can unify people of every age, class, and culture. Dance creates a powerful experience that uplifts community—and it uplifts us as artists as well. As I’ve often said, ‘Dance is just life… out loud!’”

What is your creative process?

“A new work can begin in so many ways—from a conversation, a current event, a piece of music. Generally, I’ll take that seed of an idea, and then journal my thoughts extensively before even stepping into the studio. Once I begin to work with the dancers, utilizing a basic mental sketch of an idea, the work may take a completely different path as the dancers’ bodies begin to move under my direction. The dancers are an integral source of creative energy for me, along with my exceptional creative and rehearsal team. As a choreographer, the works I see being created at this time are really phenomenal—many of them truly radical. The Arts have always been a vehicle for change, and often ahead of their time sensing the pulse of social change/social justice. In our movements, we are art warriors.”

What have you got in the works right now?

“[This spring] we presented our first major concert, COMEPassion, on the newly renovated stage of our theatre in Five Points. It was our first multi-camera livestream production. The pandemic taught us how to blend the benefits of technology with our creativity, and expand our audience around the globe. It was wonderful to welcome an in-person audience, along with many patrons who viewed the performance virtually. We are excited to announce the World Premiere of a major new work at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House this September: The Four Journeys, choreographed by Viviana Basanta, Director of the Ballet Folkórico de Mexico.”