More than 60 dancers have jumped, rolled and improvised movements across Ormao's wood floors over the past 20 years as members of the professional modern dance company. And each one of them has been invited back to attend the nonprofit group's spring anniversary concert this weekend at the Louisa Performing Arts Center.
Founder and director Jan Johnson's vision when she moved here in 1985 wasn't to build a company. She says she simply was seeking out opportunities to explore the art of dance, and found, back then, that there wasn't much going on. After asking around, and discovering some interest, she started Ormao in 1990 with just a handful of dancers.
From there it grew — beginning with a first studio showing for an audience of 60, to "stage door" performances at the Pikes Peak Center in the early '90s, to a show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, featuring an original piece based on the 2005 Dale Chihuly exhibition. Today the program boasts a professional company with regular shows, a dance school and a dance-in-education program.
This weekend's anniversary concert consists of four new works: Johnson's opener, titled "Slender Threads," brings together four dancers who express movements that represent the personal connections in our lives. "Four Women," a piece by member Ila Conoley, is based upon the lyrics of the Nina Simone song. In the third selection, Posy Knight and Margaret Foy, both Ormao alumni, will perform a set to live piano, titled "Shadow."
It's the closing ensemble, however, that celebrates the soul of Ormao. Developed by Billy Chang, a 26-year-old former Cirque du Soleil performer, Johnson says "O.R.M.A.O." is not only named after her group, but is very specific to its members and the community.
"Unlike a lot of dance work, it's not like something you could say, 'Oh, let's have this company in Ohio do this,'" she says. "It just would have no meaning."
Chang, who came here from his homeland of Taiwan via a Colorado College guest artist program, designed the performance after spending time with the dancers, and asking them questions about the company and each of them as individuals.
He also spent time learning about the area, in particular watching Pikes Peak and how it changes each day.
This choreography, Chang says, "is not just about dancing. It's about the whole atmosphere in Colorado Springs. The people of Colorado Springs. The colors of Colorado Springs."
All of which is reflected in the movements, the lighting and even the costumes.
"I asked the costume designer to use the colors of Colorado Springs ... some color of the sky ... some orange from the Garden of the Gods ... a little white as clouds and snow on Pikes Peak."
When he finished his choreography, Chang was surprised to have completed the longest piece he's ever written, coming in at 24 minutes. It's more than twice the length he'd planned, but he says it doesn't feel that long to him.
The Ormao dancers "want to bring the beauty of dance to the audience," Chang says. "I wanted to make something to show the beauty of the dancers. Of their spiritual movement. Of their personality.
"They give themselves to the company. They share their experience. ... I think they have a very special magic power."