Sopris Sun

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Carbondale imports, exports dance

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Carbondale’s dance scene has been going through some busy times lately, at least as far as the Dance Initiative organization, housed in the Launchpad facility on S. Fourth Street, is concerned.
A series of planned artistic events, classes in the local schools and now a move by the dance group’s founder, Peter Gilbert, to help re-energize the struggling Glenwood Center for the Arts in Glenwood Springs are all part of Dance Initiative’s growing presence in the lower Roaring Fork Valley.
“We’re in great shape,” said Gilbert about his organization this week. “We’re still a young and small organization, with only a couple of employees,” but in its eighth year of existence Dance Initiative is moving beyond its beginnings.
Gilbert, who founded Dance Initiative in 2009, is from New York City originally, and despite his position at the head of a dance company, is not a dancer himself. He is a graduate of Harvard and holds an MBA from Columbia, but has been intrigued by the world of dance since being introduced to it at the age of 16 by a “love interest” who was a dancer, according to a profile published in 2014 in a local newspaper.
Following a career in the family business (a small manufacturing firm in Queens), Gilbert and his wife,  Aileen, moved to Carbondale in 2003 and he resumed his fascination with dance, taking classes at the Glenwood Dance Academy and ultimately starting the Dance Initiative (DI).
When the Launchpad, former home of the Gordon Cooper Library, was repurposed as a community arts facility in 2014, the Dance Initiative moved in alongside the Carbondale Arts organization, and a community collaboration was born. Even the name of the building has a long-standing community tie-in — Gordon Cooper, whose name graced the former library, was an astronaut in the U.S. space program, and his mother lived in Carbondale and was present when the library was dedicated in 1984.
The DI, “started out strictly with presentations,” Gilbert recalled, but soon began offering dance classes and outreach programs.
With a board of directors providing organizational oversight, and an advisory board looking after programming, the DI recently hosted dancer and instructor Melissa Toogood, who was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Co., founded by the late Mercier Philip “Merce” Cunningham, described as being at the “forefront” of modern American dance methods for half a century, who died in 2009.
And next week, May 21-28, will feature a duo of Artists In Residence — Marielis Garcia and David Norsworthy, who are described on the DI website (www.danceinitiative.org) as working to fulfill a “primary responsibility to engage communities in artistic experiences.”
While here, Gilbert told The Sopris Sun, “Their work is really to create a choreographic snapshot of Carbondale.”
The pair will hold two workshops — on Tuesday and Thursday, May 23 & 25, at 6:15 p.m. at the Launchpad, for participants aged 16 years and older — that will involve “simple movement exercises, personal reflection and group discussion,” according to the website.
“They want to get a feel for what makes Carbondale different (from other communities they have visited,” Gilbert explained, adding that the sessions are designed not only for dancers, but for other creative types whether they are musicians, artists, writers or in other disciplines.
“Participants do not need dance or movement experience to participate,” the website states, urging participants to attend both workshops if possible.
The goal, according to the website, is to “gather passing thoughts, anecdotes, jokes, profound questions, silly curiosities, fascinations, political concerns which they will transform … into choreographic scores and structures” to create the snapshot of Carbondale.
The workshops are part of a series of small community snapshots from around the country that the pair is working on, though Gilbert predicted, “I don’t think they’re going to find any town as unique and special as Carbondale.”
A “studio presentation” of the work in progress will be staged for the public on May 27 at the Launchpad, at 7:30 p.m., and interested patrons are urged to submit an RSVP to the DI office, by email at danceinitiative@gmail.com or by phone at 970-963-8681.
For the future, DI board member and dancer Deborah Colley will be working over the coming months with dancers in the CoMotion group, local musicians, writers and filmmakers to put together “an outdoor installation and film,” which Gilbert said will be offered at a presentation in late August at a venue to be determined.
“Dance Initiative is trying very hard to introduce different artists, different styles to the community,” Gilbert said of the company’s mission.
At the same time, Gilbert, on his own, has offered to help the troubled Glenwood Center for the Arts, which nearly closed down earlier this year over financial and management difficulties, to find a way of staying open and active as an arts facility, though with “limited operations” compared to previous programming.
Gilbert said he has agreed to work with the center, following what center board president Kate McRaith reported as “an incredible outpouring of support” from the valley community, to continue the center’s primary focus of offering dance classes and events to the public.
He said he, along with long time regional government leader Betsy Suerth, former administrator and operations director for the towns of Silt and Basalt, will be meeting with center teachers and others to come up with a new operating plan that will help the center get back on its feet.
“I think there’s a core of activity that can definitely be good for the community and be financially sound,” Gilbert said of the center’s prospects.