The pandemic kept the Colorado Symphony from celebrating Cleo Parker Robinson. Now they’re getting their chance

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Courtesy Colorado Symphony/Amanda Tipton
Christopher Dragon conducts the Colorado Symphony at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver.

Fresh off receiving the National Medal of the Arts, Denver's Cleo Parker Robinson is launching a special event with the Colorado Symphony. 

Denver dance pioneer Parker Robinson and The International Association of Blacks in Dance, the group she co-founded, were awarded a National Medal of the Arts at the White House last week.  

Following the White House ceremony and celebrations, Parker Robinson said she was honored to be among those recognized. 

“It was something that was so beautiful, and I felt proud — proud, um, to be there and proud to be of this country,” Parker Robinson said. “I felt like there was something wonderful and celebrative and Black dancers’ being, and I'm being honored and I'm standing on the shoulders of everybody who's come before me.”

Parker Robinson is an iconic figure in Colorado arts. She founded The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble and serves as its executive creative director. In 1989, she was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, and in 1999, President Clinton appointed her to serve on the National Council on the Arts. The Kennedy Center's "Masters of African American Choreographers'' series awarded her the Center's highest honor, the Medal of Honor, in 2005.

Now, after a delay during the pandemic, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble and the Colorado Symphony will perform together in a concert celebrating Parker Robinson’s 50-plus years as an arts leader.  

Parker Robinson said she and her team are counting the days because, when the planning began, they had no idea a pandemic would cause a three-year delay in celebrating the 50th anniversary. 

Courtesy The White House
From left: Debbie Blunden-Diggs, Denise Saunders, Cleo Parker Robinson, Joan Myers Brown, Ann Williams, and Lula Washington pose with the National Medal of Arts. The group received the medal for their work founding The International Association of Blacks in Dance last week.

“But what I think is thrilling is, I'll be working with a conductor that I've never worked with: Christopher Dragon. And I am looking forward to working with him. He's just been wonderful,” Parker Robinson said.

Anthony Pierce, the chief artistic officer for the Colorado Symphony, said “we really put our heads together with Cleo and her team to talk about some of the triumphs of the past and, you know, some things that made sense for us to kind of rekindle and re-stage.” 

The concert features selections from Duke Ellington's Come Sunday, Bizet's Carmen, Verdi's Aida, Stravinsky's Firebird, and George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

Pierce said it's a very diverse program. “You know, we're touching on some different periods of art history and it really shows off the orchestra well and gives Cleo, and everything she's achieved over the years, a chance to really shine.”

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra performs with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Thursday, March 30th at the Boettcher Concert Hall.