African dance keeps the fire burning at 48th annual Steamboat Dance Theatre concert
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Steamboat Dance Theatre takes the stage this weekend, one particular piece will shine brightly in the auditorium. The theme is “Keeping the Fire,” which touches on the lineage of African dance in Steamboat Springs, its impact and what it means to keep the fire burning in our community and ourselves.
The dance was choreographed by dancer Abagail Fritz, a Steamboat Springs native who now lives in Los Angeles while she pursues a professional dance career teaching, educating and choreographing.
“I grew up in Steamboat,” Fritz said, “and I have a lot of dance history here. For me this was full circle: coming home and choreographing this piece.”
Fritz first became interested in African dance nearly 20 years ago when she took a class with Robin Getter, who brought African dance to Steamboat in the 1980s.
“African dance put me on a track that sent me around the world, allowed me to live in several major cities in the U.S. and now supports me through my career,” Fritz said.
When she was commissioned to create a dance for Steamboat Dance Theatre’s annual production, she jumped at the opportunity. Intensive rehearsals were held for two weekends in the summer, and when Fritz returned to her job in LA, Jennie Lay and Heather Naused, two of the dancers, took over rehearsals in person while Fritz worked with the group remotely.
“It’s been an extraordinary opportunity to work with Abby,” Lay said. “She brings a lot of integrity and deep respect to the traditional side of the art form. She has a consciousness of what’s modern and new in contemporary African dance, and she blends that with more traditional aspects in a way that’s fun and spicy and hard. And because of that, we all learn a lot. It’s different than what we have ever done as a group of dancers in Steamboat before.”
But the dance took on a new meaning when Beth Boyd, one of Steamboat Dance Theatre’s most beloved members, died from cancer on Christmas Eve.
What: Steamboat Dance Theatre’s 2020 Annual Concert
When: 7 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 23, 24 and 25; 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25
Where: Steamboat Springs High School, 45 Maple St.
Cost: $20 for general seating; $25 for reserved seating
What: Community Dance Class with Abagail Fritz
When: 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27
Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St.
Cost: $20; no registration required
“Beth was a huge part of the African dance community — that’s how I first met her,” Fritz explained. “She was such a bright light as an individual – loved the drum, loved dancing. She brought a ton of energy into the community.”
Boyd began dancing with Steamboat Dance Theatre in the early 2000s and even taught several entry-level African dance classes herself.
“Throughout the dance, there is this idea of a ‘fire keeper,’ and that’s Beth. She kept that light going for the community. She was really a presence,” Fritz said.
In addition to the Dance Theatre performance, Fritz will teach two community dance classes at the Depot Art Center after the show. The all-levels class is an introduction to contemporary and traditional West African styles and is meant to honor and remember Boyd.
As the dance comes full circle, it’s bound to be a poignant and memorable experience for the community.
Steamboat Dance Theatre kicks off Thursday, Jan. 23, and continues Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25. Tickets can be purchased at steamboatdancetheatre.org
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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