Zikr Dance Ensemble returns to live performances — The Know

In the middle of 2020, while the coronavirus was raging, David Taylor made a decision. He was going to go forward with the creation of his newest dance, “Lifting the Veil,” and — somehow — his company was going to get it on stage when it was done.

That was a serious commitment, considering the Colorado performing world was completely shut down at the time, and no one knew how long that would last. Or when venues would be willing to open. Or when dancers could gather to rehearse. Or when audiences would be comfortable venturing out of their houses to see live art.

If you go

“Lifting the Veil” will be performed in various formats, at different prices, April 7-18. Check with each venue for specifics and requirements on safety precautions. Tickets and info at zikrdance.com.

The schedule:

  • Wednesday, April 7: Southridge Recreation Center, 4800 McArthur Ranch Road, Highlands Ranch
  • Saturday, April 10: Denver Ballet Theatre Academy, 8000 South Lincoln St., Littleton
  • Monday, April 12: Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder
  • Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18: Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood

But Taylor’s decision put his company in a good position. Theaters are coming back (if slowly and at limited capacity) and dancers have returned to their studios (if cautiously and with strict safety protocols), and his Zikr Dance Ensemble is ready to get moving. This week, it is set to become one of the first Front Range performing arts groups to head back into business.

“Lifting the Veil” will have an evolving, four-part premier at a number of local venues, scheduled to begin with a one-hour preview performance on April 7 at the Southridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch, and culminating with a full-blown production April 17 and 18 at the Lakewood Cultural Center.

At least that’s the plan. In an interview last week, Taylor acknowledged that anything can happen between now and the final performance. He’s moving forward, he said, with the same determination that propelled him to finish the piece “whether or not we’d have a theater to present it or audiences to experience it live.”

Plus, he has gotten used to the setbacks and adjustments that have come to define the task of performing in the spring of 2021.

Those include working with venues as they do their own calculations on the wisdom of letting people inside. In all, “Lifting the Veil” will show in different editions at four theaters, including the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder and the Denver Ballet Theatre Academy in Littleton.

Certainly, it would have been easier to stage the program at one venue, but Zikr has no choice but to spread its wares around. Like most small arts nonprofits in this region, it funds operations through a combination of ticket revenues, private donations and government grants, including money from the seven-county taxing scheme known as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.

Because SCFD hands out much of its money county-by-county, Zikr has to make an appearance in every county that contributes to its annual grant. So, for example, by performing at the Southridge Recreation Center, it fulfills its obligation to Douglas County.

Each venue has its own evolving set of requirements that impact the staging. For example, Taylor said, because of social distancing needs, the Lakewood Cultural Center will sell only about 100 tickets for its 300-plus seat theater.

So the production had to be altered to work in each place. It will be smaller in the beginning and grow to include its full complement of sets, sound and lighting in Lakewood.

The company’s 15 dancers, all part-time and paid, have had to remain nimble, and open-minded about their own challenges. They returned to rehearsal mid-March with an unprecedented set of rules in place. They are tested for the virus regularly and required to wear masks during rehearsal, not a small obstacle considering their physically demanding occupation. Extra precautions were taken cleaning the studio and wiping down walls, floors and barres.

If one dancer or crew member turns up positive for the virus, the whole effort could be in jeopardy, Taylor said. So far, no one has.

Zikr Dance did have one thing in its favor besides tenacity: It is well-funded at the moment.

SCFD rules require grant recipients to perform annually in exchange for their money. But it made an exception in 2020, allowing organizations to hold on to the cash for that year even though venues were dark. That help was important for keeping operations afloat as they experienced pandemic-induced financial hardships, though for some organizations it also means robust budgets to cover expenses in 2021.

As a small company, Zikr receives modest grants. For example, its 2020 grant from Jefferson County was $4,670 and it received $4,200 from Arapahoe County. Taylor said combing those funds with the 2021 round of grants was crucial to getting “Lifting the Veil” into shape. Zikr is known for doing a lot with limited resources; its shows have high production values and its troupe is talented.

“Lifting the Veil” continues its mission of exploring the “ritualistic and transcendent aspects of dance,” as Taylor describes the work. Reflecting Taylor’s own background, the company’s style combines a number of influences, including modern movement and ballet. Taylor is best known in Colorado for the 27 years he spent leading the David Taylor Dance Theater, which he founded in 1979 and marshaled into the state’s premier contemporary ballet company before departing, eventually forming Zikr in 2009.

There is a spiritual edge to all of the company’s work, from the steps to the costumes to the music, that pulls together aspects of sacred movement from around the world — Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and more, much of it unknown to people outside of those faiths, Taylor said. He lists the movement of whirling dervishes and traditional Balinese dancers as some of the inspirations for “Lifting the Veil.”

Those classically shaped movements are enhanced by current technology. This show employs film projections and digital graphic effects created by Travis Powell, from the design company Deep Space Drive-In, and sets designed by respected visual artist George Peters.

Technology also will allow the piece to live on after April’s live events. Taylor plans to send video recordings across the state to places like Alamosa, Grand Junction and Taos where, in a normal year, the company would travel in-person during its touring season.

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