Boulder dancer Joanna Rotkin began teaching free improvisational-dance classes for adults in 2003, inviting people with little or no experience to experiment with their bodies. Years later, each class continues to attract an average of thirty students, ages 26 to 86, whom she sometimes employs in live performances under the moniker of Joanna and the Agitators.
While the classes aren’t necessarily designed to be so multi-generational, they evolved that way. “They draw a very diverse group — it works for some, and for some it doesn’t, but people tend to stick with it when it does,” Rotkin notes. “People who resonate with the work stay with it. They grow into their bodies and selves, and it’s an exciting place to be as an artist — so non-mainstream.”
Now she’s interpreted the class’s raw experience on film for The Sky Inside, a self-made production that captures how physically limitless her students can feel through improvised movement. Rotkin will show the film on three evenings, beginning with the premiere on Sunday, April 28, at the Boedecker Theater in the Dairy Arts Center.
What does the film’s title mean to Rotkin? It’s hard to explain, but she gives it a go: “It’s how it feels to me when I’m dancing with the class. A common thing happens when people are present and listening to themselves in the ensemble space: We feel an inner expansiveness develop and evolve inside the body. It’s like a sky expanse is actually inside our human forms.”
Given those indefinite parameters, Rotkin felt that the best way to share that experience outside of a live performance was to commit it to film. “When we’re doing it in class, it feels so intimate and so honest that I wanted to find a way to be able to hold that and give it a voice,” she says. “I was interested in delving into the interior. In class, we each meet ourselves exactly where we are — each student meets herself fully. Artistic expression is amazing and quite exquisite when you are so engaged and present.” Through the malleable medium of film, she hopes to evoke the invisible freedom of pure movement.
“As I edited the film, I could control the shape of it more, highlighting those exquisite patterns in relationship to moments of listening,” Rotkin adds. “I’m allowing an audience not familiar with this kind of work to take in that beauty and navigate through the time and space of that visceral connection with the dancers, with no sense of separation.”
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Rotkin thinks the future of dance lies in such blind spontaneity: "I think it will be different for each dance artist making work right now. For some it will be engaging with technology in ways we haven't even begun to imagine; for some it will be continuing to push the boundary between performer and audience member by delving into durational, immersive and site-specific work; and for others — and I fall more squarely into this category — it will simply be to expand our capacity, as artists and audience members, to meet ourselves and each other exactly as we are.
“For me, that is the work right now — that meeting-ourselves piece, so that the audience, rather than saying, ‘Wow, look at those dancers. I could never do that,’ they say: ‘Wow, look at those dancers...I could do that. That's me up there, dancing.’”
Joanna Rotkin will share The Sky Inside at 7 p.m. screenings on Sunday, April 28; Monday, April 29, and Monday, May 6, at the Boedecker Theater in the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder. Admission to the all-ages screenings is $15 (free for children ages twelve and under); reserve tickets at the Dairy Arts Center website.
Learn more about Rotkin’s classes online.