Night at the Museums offered dancing, darkness at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Before Night at the Museums on Saturday, where eighteen Denver museums opened their doors to whoever wanted to come, free of charge, in conjunction with Denver Arts Week, I'd never been to the Denver Botanic Gardens before. After spending Night at the Museums at the Botanic Gardens on Saturday, I still feel like I've never been to the Botanic Gardens -- although I did get to see a tangentially related but pretty cool avant-garde dance performance. Just not too many plants.

The dancing came courtesy of 3rd Law Dance/Theater, as a commemoration of the Botanic Gardens' current exhibit of the sculptures of Henry Moore. The tie-in was fairly loose -- the dancing and the sculptures didn't explicitly have all that much to do with each other -- but it was close enough; there is a certain fluidity to Moore's sculptures, and 3rd Law did a beautiful job of capturing it.

The line to get into the dance performance was, somewhat surprisingly, extremely long -- avant-garde interpretive dance is not exactly a high-demand commodity, but apparently, if you make things free, a lot of people want to see them. We got there about fifteen minutes ahead of time and were still far enough back in line that we didn't get in the room until the performance had already started.

The room was set up with four podiums in each corner, each with some trippy liquid-graphics effects projected on them, and for about the first half of its 25-minute length, the performance was pretty out-there; the five dancers rotated among the crowd from podium to podium, kind of doing their own thing among eerie sounds and dissonant strings, occasionally meeting at one or another and dancing together to a snippet of melody here, a recognizable rhythm there. The effect was intriguing; order effortlessly materializing out of disorder and then fading just as effortlessly.

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Toward the final half, the music gradually became more focused, eventually settling on a haunting cello suite, and the dancers came together toward what might be called the front of the room -- if the room had any identifiable focal point -- for what was really the pièce de résistance: a choreographed finale that, though it showed an obvious organization, still seemed somehow loose and free, like the organized-but-unpredictable way water flows in a stream. Truly, it was beautiful.

The rest of the Botanic Gardens -- though it seemed as if it might be equally beautiful -- didn't fare so well. To be fair, I don't know if they have outdoor lighting over there -- and they might not; the Gardens' open hours are designed to fall within daylight -- but if they do, it wasn't turned on. And I mean it really wasn't turned on; in large chunks of the Gardens, there was no light at all, making it extremely difficult to see anything.

Which would have been fine, perhaps, but the Botanic Gardens also has indoor exhibits -- like a giant greenhouse that I can't describe because it was closed.

Maybe I was asking for too much -- you get what you pay for, after all, and in this case, I didn't pay anything. Somehow, though, I still felt a little cheated.

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