Top contemporary dance company performs at TACAW on Saturday

Zikr Dance Ensemble performs "Mobile."
Zikr Dance Ensemble/Courtesy photo

You may not have heard of Zikr Dance Ensemble, but the Denver-based company, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, is well worth noting. Its artistic director, David Taylor, founded the David Taylor Dance Theatre, which, for 32 years, was Denver’s first contemporary ballet company and earned a reputation as one of the Rocky Mountain region’s most acclaimed dance organizations — in addition to the Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellent in the Arts. He launched Zikr Dance Ensemble to usher in the spiritual side of dance, blending various world cultures and religions into contemporary, artistic performances. On Saturday, Zikr Dance Ensemble showcases “Initiation.”

The program includes a beloved, short piece by legendary choreographer Tomm Ruud, called “Mobile,” in addition to two works revolving around Greek mythology, as well as one honoring spiritual devotees in India and Tibet and an abstract piece called “Ripples in the Sand.”

Ruud was a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, and when he died in 1994, his son, Christopher Ruud — a principal dancer with Ballet West — became the caretaker of “Mobile,” which approximately 30 different major ballet companies worldwide have performed. In 2006, David Taylor Dance Theatre performed the piece, and last spring, Zikr Dance Ensemble brought it back to life. It was such an audience favorite, Taylor decided to keep it in the repertoire this fall, he said.

The first 50 seconds of “Mobile” features the music of Russian composer Aram Khachaturian without dance. As the curtain opens, a man and two women are already moving and spinning “like it’s been going on forever,” Taylor said. “You get a sense of being in another dimension or another world.”

“Initiation” also highlights two works based on Greek myths. One retells the oracle of Delphi as the psychic goes into a trance, while the other retells the story of Icarus. “Icarus After” portrays a father-son reunion once they escape the labyrinth, yet, in the end, Icarus decides he still wants to soar to the sun.

“Ripples in the Sand” was inspired by German composer Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to “Dune.” Though Taylor liked the music, he didn’t find the right flavor and ambiance until he listened to outtakes from the soundtrack, which presented longer, fascinating musical segments. Then, he came across an online animation of a woman emerging from the sand in the Sahara Desert, and he choreographed “Ripples in the Sand” with six large fans blowing huge swaths of fabric, like a shifting sand dune.

“It’s a metaphor of the forces behind the scenes in this time of crisis, where the veil between the spiritual and the physical is starting to erode away,” Taylor said.

He bases yet another piece on the “sadhu,” or holy men and women of Tibet and India who have renounced the physical world in favor of praying and meditating all day.

While Taylor was a dancer for 12 years and has choreographed more than 100 original works, his background and passion lies in spiritual and metaphysical studies. He created Zikr to explore dance as a form of ritual and transcendence.

“I wanted to do what I love and what my soul called for and focus on the spiritual aspect,” he said.

Nicola Marchionni is a guest dancer with Zikr Dance Ensemble.
Nicola Marchionni is a guest dancer with Zikr Dance Ensemble.

“Zikr” signifies remembering or praising frequently by mentioning — “to make much of; to cherish the memory of as a precious possession.” In Sufi tradition, it represents a solemn ritual and a spiritual state of mind or heart, which acts as a foundation for Taylor’s choreography.

“The company’s purpose is to offer performance experiences of spiritual atonement for both participants and audiences alike, which are both theatrically engaging and educational and that can also connect to numerous organizations dedicated to both promoting spiritual tolerance and multi-cultural understanding for the entire community,” according to the company’s history and vision statement.

Performances integrate slide projections and visual effects for a multi-media experience. About 10 dancers make up the company, including guest artists Nicola Marchionni and William Mitchell from the United Kingdom.

William Mitchell is a guest dancer with Zikr Dance Ensemble.
William Mitchell is a guest dancer with Zikr Dance Ensemble.

“(Marchionni and Mitchell) have a strong foundation in both classical and contemporary dance besides being seasoned professionals who have performed all over the world,” Taylor said, adding that all of the dancers are extremely strong in their classical ballet foundation and excel in demanding contemporary work.

Zikr Dance Ensemble also stands out in its outreach to smaller communities throughout Colorado and New Mexico; it focuses on performing in smaller venues and towns that otherwise might not be exposed to professional dance companies.

“I love bringing this quality of dance to audiences who have maybe never seen this quality of dance before,” Taylor said.

If you go…

What: Zikr Dance Ensemble

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: TACAW

Tickets: $26 for members, $40 day of show

More info:

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