As a founding director and lead choreographer of Evolving Doors Dance for the past fifteen years, Angie Simmons knows something about evolution, and that’s no more evident than in the present, in a time when dance companies are fighting to stay afloat in a pandemic-driven drought of performance opportunities and interactive collaborations. In a field that already struggles to find an audience, Simmons and Evolving Doors are fighting back with a barrage of new performance forms that will debut over the next couple of weeks.
Simmons talks about what makes her tick as a dancer and choreographer, and how that journey could be improved as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
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Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Angie Simmons: Musings for creating my dance work usually come from two areas: my personal experiences with the world, and my dancers or collaborating artists. I'm a very sensitive human and often find myself deeply and personally affected by the world I live in and the events in that world, even if they are not happening directly to me. Or it is often very easy for me to imagine myself in someone else's shoes.
This, combined with the fact that I'm also quick to take an emotion and make a drive to express it. For me, that is most easily done through making dances about humans. The human experience and all its subtle emotions and modes of communication make for a wide array of possibilities when I'm making dances...like having every paint color and hue at my disposal if I was a visual artist.
Similarly, this is why my dancers or collaborating artists also easily become muses. A person’s way of reaching his or her hand or embracing another person can say so many things, all at once. How I can use the nuance of that to create performative experiences is intoxicating. Human experience in itself is such a wonderful, rich muse.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
As a fellow feminist, queer artist and person who lives in the somatic realm, Kahlo's work has always inspired me and drawn me in, with her dark interpretations of the twisted and restricted body. She also really cut her way through the dense forest of the arts world with her own vision and voice, creating works that were moving and unique, personal and visceral.
Bausch's use of the awkward and discomforting is always a personal favorite of mine. As someone with German heritage, I find myself attracted to the German Expressionists and their exploration of inner turmoil, fears and desires. Her ability to draw this out through her work with her dancers is something I admire and long for as a choreographer.
My grandmother passed when I was in undergraduate school at Illinois State University, studying dance education. She lived a difficult life, and I didn't really get to know her. I knew her only as my grandma and not as an individual. I'd love to have the chance to ask her a million questions and to share my arts career with her.
I think having these three strong and amazing women in one room together — perhaps with a drink in their hands (my grandmother would be drinking a Pink Squirrel) — would be life-changing!
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing about the dance community here in the Denver area is that anyone can make a go at being an independent dance artist or running a dance company. Not that these things are easy, but there are many dance artists of many walks of life and from various backgrounds and trainings here, all working on their craft and finding ways to present work, sharing with the larger community and connecting to other artists.
The worst thing about the dance community in the metro is that it is very difficult to grow an audience without funding, adequate (and affordable) performance spaces for dance, and consistent press coverage. These three things intertwine to either help an artist or company grow or, by lacking these things, keep an artist or company in the shadows when it comes to good visibility and growing an audience of consistent patronage, which of course, affects budget. While any dance artist here can throw their hat in the ring and make a go of it, it is difficult to gain momentum and visibility, which leads to larger audiences and a growing budget, which leads to more creation and more community outreach. The situation is cyclical.
It’s a challenging time for performers, thanks to COVID-era restrictions on large groups of people congregating in a performance space. How are you dealing with that as the director of Evolving Doors?
When it became clear that every aspect of how we do things was no longer possible, we had to make some pretty stark changes. We had to put our community outreach on hold because it had involved face-to-face, interdisciplinary performing arts classes for the community. We canceled a spring show.
Then we regrouped. We shifted gears to creating a dance-for-camera film (our first), filmed and edited by Gretchen LaBorwit and in a collaboration between the company and Gary Grundei and Amy Shelley of the band High Fiction. Material that I created [and] filmed one-on-one with each dancer at the People's Building in Aurora and at Rocky Flats in Golden was then edited by Gretchen. The musical duo has worked with her directly to create a trio of three songs for the film. Midway through filming in July, we decided to do a live and live-streamed concert, which premieres at the People's Building October 1.
It’s a walk-through performance that utilizes the entire building, nestling solos and a few duets of dancers in separate installational environments while interweaving sounds of four live musicians placed throughout the building can be heard. Small, masked audience groups will be welcomed into the building in fifteen-minute increments to walk through the installation, much like you'd walk through a gallery exhibit, taking some time in each environment to really join the dancer(s) in that space and atmosphere.
As for moving forward? Like most people, we don't know what this pandemic and the coming political climate will bring, so we don't know what comes next for EDD, either. We hope to keep moving and keep evolving, as our name suggests. What we know for sure is that nothing will be the same, at least not for quite some time.
What's your dream project?
Right now my dream project would be fully funded, in a gorgeous dance space, with a large cast, where we can do lots of partnering.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it! I've moved away twice to NYC and to Mississippi and moved back twice! Something about the beautiful mountains calls me back, even though I was raised in the Midwest.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Not to sound too sappy, but my favorite Colorado Creative is my wife and creative partner, Amy Shelley. We have created work together since our meeting in 2002. She is a drummer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with various bands: High Fiction, Kerry Pastine and the Crime Scene, and Cuddle. She's a one-of-a-kind creative problem-solver. She always has something interesting and unique to add to the creative conversation, and she has excellent taste in music. Some of my most cherished and most educational experiences have been while watching/listening to her play and while working alongside her to create dance/music projects.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
I think I have to get November 3 under my belt before I know what creative legs I have and where the company goes for 2021. I'd like to return to our community-outreach plans in some way. I'm also investigating possible ways to extend our current project, perhaps into something that can travel, when that is safe to do and we have the resources and budget to make that happen.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Aaron Vega, a Denver actor and musician, and the manager at the People's Building in Aurora, is a tremendous human. He is a huge arts advocate and always looking to bring arts to the Aurora community. He is also a ridiculously talented actor.
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Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden is a most outstanding organization. The company and its director, Len Matheo, produce brilliant work and are always striving to support their artists.
The online event Coil & Web - A Dance-for-Camera Short Film, debuts by virtual link on Tuesday, September 22, and is viewable on the Evolving Doors website for a donation fee of $10 or more.
Moving Through: Bodies, Music, Images, Experience premieres at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 1, and runs through Saturday, October 3, at the People’s Building, 9995 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. Reserve limited timed tickets, $20, in advance, or view online by live stream for a donation of $10 or more.
Learn more about Evolving Doors Dance or schedule a class online.