Carbondale artist petitions Congress through dance | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale artist petitions Congress through dance

Carla Jean Whitley
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Congressional members hear from their constituents in a variety of ways: Letters. Phone calls. Emails. But Deborah Colley wants to do something different. As the government considers the use and preservation of federal lands, she hopes to evoke emotion and bring the land to them.

That's the aim of "Letter to Congress: A Wild Sanity," a film and performance for which Colley served as artistic director. The film combines dance, music, visual art and Colley's literal letter to Congress, and she is exploring the best ways to get it in government hands.

This weekend, Colley, CoMotion: a conscious movement project and the band Raccoon Fight will perform the letter at Sustainable Settings in Carbondale.

Early on, Colley considered limiting the project to art, rather than including the letter, which is voiced throughout the film. But as she considered different learning styles, she opted to include it.

"There's people who will understand something through text, there's people who will understand something through kinesthetic learning, there's people who will understand something through auditory learning," Colley said. "How can I maximize the effectiveness of the message and also streamline each section of the letter so it's potent?"

The project combines many of Colley's passions; she's operations manager of Carbondale Arts, assistant director of Dance Initiative, which commissioned the project, and a former environmental educator. She drew inspiration from Wallace Stegner's 1960 Wilderness Letter.

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"(Like Stegner's,) it's a letter advocating for public lands for the sake of our American spirit and sanity. I'm really looking at the psychological impacts that access to public lands has on us, time spent in the outdoors has on us," she said.

The musicians and dancers involved in the project share Colley's concern. We spoke to three of the project members to learn why the outdoors are important to them.

Morgan Williams, composer:

"Aside from the environment's importance in itself with ecological systems and whatnot, my personal experience was when I was 13, 14 and I climbed my first fourteener at a summer camp over in Buena Vista. We backpacked and it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, climbing this mountain. It opened my eyes to the possibility that I could do anything in my life that I want. And so, for me, that was empowering and it helped me self actualize what I could do in my life. Ever since then, I've been an advocate and really appreciated wilderness and the outdoors.

"That was personal experience, and then through time and learning about the environment and how sacred it is to our minds and our psychological well-being, I've just always been an advocate from middle school to adulthood."

Emily Fifer, dancer and Dance Initiative marketing assistant:

"I think growing up here, the outdoors and public places has just been a part of my life, to the extent where I've probably taken it for granted. Growing up here was amazing, being within the mountains. They were my backyard, basically. They've always been a part of my life.

"When we filmed the dance on Independence Pass and some of the other areas we were in in the wilderness, it did sort of remind me. I hadn't been up on Independence Pass or the grottos for a really long time. To put myself back in those places, and then also in a different context — not just hiking or enjoying looking at the scenery, but actually moving and dancing— opened that love back up for me."

Deborah Colley, artistic director and dancer:

"I was a pretty depressed teenager. I got to go to the Grand Tetons in the middle of winter. I was really wrestling with any sense of hope for the future.

"I was raised in Dallas, Texas, so even though we went camping growing up, my access to beautiful places was really limited.

"I got to the Tetons and I just felt this enormous sense of discovery. Oh, my life could be about exploring and opened up that curiosity and something about horizon lines and tall mountains — they just kind of pique your imagination, your curiosity, and I think they open you up a little bit more. It was hard to be out there because it was so cold, but it was so beautiful. I was just floored people lived there, and then I was like, I could live in a place like this.

"I really dedicated my young adult life to providing that sort of experience for other teenagers. I worked in outdoor education. I got a degree in environmental science so I could teach environmental science. It really did change my life and it opened up different perspectives. I learned to be playful — I wasn't a very playful person then — and then I've just chosen the rest of my life to put myself in places where I can get outside.

"But even if I did live in a city, I still think people who live in cities, they look forward to going to places like national parks or they look forward to going out and recreating on BLM in desert or being in camp wherever in a national forest. There's people who come all the way out here to experience what I experienced as a teenager."

If you go

Letter to Congress: A Wild Sanity

Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. The evening will begin with a half-hour of original music by Raccoon Fight (Sarah Morehouse, Morgan Williams, Deborah Colley and Eric Baumheier). Dancers of CoMotion: a conscious movement project will then perform “Letter to Congress,” with live accompaniment from the band. The performance will take place in multiple locations on the property, so wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a folding chair or blanket. Parking is limited, so biking and carpooling are encouraged.

Can’t make the live performance? You can still support the film. Visit tinyurl.com/wildsanity to learn more and see a video of Colley discussing the project. The crowdfunding campaign concludes this weekend.

Sustainable Settings, 6107 Colorado 133, Carbondale | $15| facebook.com/lettertocongress

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