Five questions: Artist Kelly Monico on ‘Making Contact: A Dance Experiment’

Photo: MSU Denver professor Kelly MonicoA group of ballet students, ages 10 to 15, are foregoing their spring break vacations this week for the opportunity to deepen their understanding of both dance- and art-making.

Colorado Ballet Education and Outreach is collaborating with Metropolitan State University of Denver’s (MSU) Center for Visual Art (CVA) to host 13 young dancers for a week of multi-disciplinary artistic investigation.

From March 31 through April 4, the dance students will work with the Colorado Ballet’s director of outreach instruction, Marlene Strang, and dance instructor Stephanie Koltiska, to create original choreography that responds to CVA’s current exhibition, “Making Contact.”

Students will also collaborate with MSU Denver professor of art and local artist Kelly Monico to explore the multimedia dimensions of art-making, creating costumes that both project and screen video.

The weeklong residency concludes with a showcase of the original dances in four public performances at CVA on Friday, April 4.

Monico sat down with CPR to talk about the residency and provide insight into the CVA exhibition propelling the creative process.

CPR: Have you worked with dancers before?

Kelly Monico: Most of my artwork relates to sound, music, pattern and movement, so this collaboration feels like a natural fit. I have worked with videos of dancers but never with live dancers. Last fall, I exhibited a video piece at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art titled “Wigman’s Independence.” It incorporated appropriated footage of the expressionistic dancer Mary Wigman. The story behind the work had a lot to do with Wigman’s checkered past and her affiliation with the Nazi party.

CPR: Can you share more details about the “Making Contact” exhibition currently on display at MSU that the dance students are responding to as they create their dances?

Kelly Monico: “Making Contact” is the bi-annual MSU Denver Art Faculty Exhibition. For this exhibition, faculty members were asked to submit artwork that dealt with a specific theme. All of the featured artwork connects in some way with the community — though interpretations on the theme and the communities with which artists connect vary. “Making Contact” is meant as a way to reach across the artist-viewer divide and engage others in the exhibition and art-making process. In some cases, the artist-community interaction occurred prior to making the work. For example, with the interactive installation “Fluids,” artist Tsehai Johnson surveyed friends and colleagues about their relationships with the things they drink. Johnson screen-printed the responses onto more than 300 cups and glasses. The printed glassware was used to serve visitors beverages at the opening reception of the exhibition. Faculty from the painting department worked in concert on a new, large-scale painting. Artist Matt Jenkins will travel with various groups to hydraulic fracking sites along the Front Range, engaging his audience as participants for his work “Fracking Field Trips.” Some works change throughout the exhibition as contributions are added.

CPR: Can you talk some about the multimedia components for the collaboration, particularly the costumes?

Kelly Monico: Throughout the weeklong workshop, on top of designing the physical costumes, the dancers will shoot video that will be projected onto their costumes. This footage will be inspired by the work displayed in the exhibition. For the performance, we plan to incorporate a number of projectors, which will be used simultaneously. Several projectors will be stationary, while dancers also hold portable mini-projectors, which will most likely be attached to their bodies. We plan to integrate a live feed component as well through which the dancers will project their surroundings onto the walls, ceilings and costumes. We are also interested in the idea of giant headpieces for the dancers to use as screens for projection. We are interested in the idea of “up-cycling” materials for the costumes. This means incorporating fabric, paper and objects that already have a personal story attached to them. This could be anything from drawings, found objects or artifacts dancers uncover in their home.

CPR: Can you give a sense of how the creative process will go once the dance and visual arts students start working with Colorado Ballet Director of Outreach Instruction Marlene Strang and dance instructor Stephanie Koltiska to structure choreography?

Kelly Monico: Both Marlene and Stephanie attend the costume design portion of the residency so they are aware of the initial development and planning. As they move into the gallery space to workshop the choreography, dancers respond to visual elements of the video and other artworks in the gallery through movement. I’ll be attending the dance portion of the workshop as well, as we want the projection and video be synced with specific movements. Much of what we decide to project — and when we decide to project it — will be based on the input of the dancers.

CPR: Can you talk about some of the takeaways you hope the students will gain from this experience?

Kelly Monico: I hope they will develop interdisciplinary approaches to art- and dance-making. I want them to learn to collaborate with other creatives, thus expanding their thinking and approach to visual art and dance. And I also hope they will gain skills in video shooting and editing, as well as developing their knowledge of the choreographic process.

The weeklong residency concludes with four performances at the Metropolitan State University Center for Visual Art at 965 Santa Fe Drive on First Friday, April 4 at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The performances are free and open to the public.

“Making Contact: MSU Denver Art Faculty Exhibition” is on display at the Center for Visual Art at 965 Santa Fe Dr. February 21 through April 5. For more information, visit