Reaching the milestone of two decades in operation is an achievement that any arts organization should rightfully celebrate. But add in that it’s the first full season since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver has a lot to celebrate.
“This season is so much bigger — last year we had around 15 shows and this year it’s around 26,” said Aisha Ahmad-Post, executive director of the Newman Center. “We’ve been thinking about how we connect with our campus and the community at large, and that has led to us taking more risks this year.”
The center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., kicks off its 20th anniversary season on Sept. 29, with a free performance from Bandaloop. It runs through May 19 with jazz vocalist Cyrille Aimée. During those seven months, audiences will get to explore everything from concerts and cinema to family-friendly theater and comedy.
“Part of the risk-taking this season is finding ways to better connect our communities, and we’re doing that through the range, not just of the types of work, of stories told,” Ahmad-Post said. “What makes us unique is that being on a university campus allows us to bring best-in-class performers to Denver that can’t be found anywhere else.”
That theme of community connection is captured perfectly with the Bandaloop performance. The company takes a truly unique approach to the art of dance, blending it with rock climbing technology.
“The lineage the movement comes out of is the dance lineage, but it is performed in vertical spaces using rock climbing gear,” said Melecio Estrella, artistic director with the company. “The audience can look up and see a dancer performing 200 feet off the ground. We’ll be performing on a smaller building at the University of Denver, and that proximity to the audience offers more intimacy.”
The Newman Center is using the event as an opportunity to get as many people involved as possible — the event will kick off an afternoon that includes food trucks and performances by the Denver-based groups Playground Ensemble, Presenting Denver and students from DU’s Lamont School of Music.
Staging a performance like the one Bandaloop specializes in requires a great deal of planning and a site visit that includes both a feasibility and an artistic study. As Estrella explains it, each performance takes elements of the community and site history and works them into the show.
“The dance is informed by what’s already there, what’s moving in the spaces and what the community is going through,” he said. “I hope audiences come away dreaming up creative enterprises of their own.”
Some other performances that Ahmad-Post is excited about include A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, which is described as “a contemporary dance company galvanized by Black culture and history.” The performance will include their full-length work, “An Untitled Love,” set to the music of D’Angelo. Another is Manual Cinema presents “Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster.” Based on Mo Willems’ children’s books, the show blends projection, DIY cinema and music with enchanting results.
“The show is the most delightful thing in the world and is fun, interactive and specifically-designed for young audiences,” Ahmad-Post said. “Building a schedule with more work for all ages is a great way to connect for everybody.”
No matter what show people see as part of the season, there will be something that moves them. Audience members frequently attend performances even though they’re unfamiliar with a work because they trust that the quality will be of the very highest, Ahmad-Post said.
“The good thing about our reputation is that audiences know they can walk into the room for anything we’re doing and they can trust it will be good,” she said. “That’s an amazing thing to hear from your audience.”