How many dance dynamos does it take to turn a company around?

April 6, 2008

In the case of Ballet Nouveau Colorado, two. This tiny company in Broomfield, which is north of Denver, grew out of a thriving dance school and outreach program. But I gotta admit I hadn’t heard of it until Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay came along last June. Principals at Memphis Ballet who had worked extensively with Trey McIntyre, they’d been dreaming of directing their own group for a while. They came in with a slew of ideas in their back pockets. For their 21st Century Choreography Competition, they received 29 applications by DVD, and those were narrowed down to three by audience participation, internet style. Anyone who went online to see their videos could vote. BNC’s slogan “We dance; you vote” made it simple. They got 32,620 hits on YouTube!

    The next stage was to give each of the three choreographers 25 hours of rehearsal with this 11-member (and 2-apprentice) company. Then BNC called in judges to help decide who the winner will be—and that person will get a cash prize plus an invitation to return to beautiful Colorado to make a new piece. That’s where I came in—as one of the judges. There will be four more nights with two judges each.

    Garrett (artistic director) and Dawn (associate artistic director) face a lot of obstacles. Finding a decent theater to perform in regularly is a big one. Attracting audiences from nearby Denver is another. Although Broomfield is only 15 minutes away by car, most Denver denizens don’t think of going that far afield (kind of like how many Manhattanites won’t go to Brooklyn to see dance). And yet another is changing the identity to a company that does contemporary works rather than the kind of ballet their previous audience expects.

    What inspires me is their energy. Garrett, who is a choreographer himself, is brimming with ideas. Dawn, from the few minutes I saw her give pre-performance class, is as astoundingly energetic as a teacher and coach as she was as a performer. I got the feeling that they both hadn’t slept much since this Competition started. They have a rough road ahead, but in a couple years they may have a really interesting small company with an appealing repertoire and great dancers.