'Messiah of movement' Bob Davidson passes away

by John Moore | Dec 22, 2016

Above: A video close-up at Bob Davidson's work with the National Theatre Conservatory.

Though he grew up in rural Minnesota, renowned dancer and movement coach Bob Davidson lived a life of adventure Hemingway would have envied. Just last summer, he was training a group of European movement teachers in Istanbul “when we were rudely interrupted by a coup,” he said with typical panache.

Bob Davidson Quote His global world view was shaped early in his life. He toured Central and South America with his college a cappella choir, followed by a summer studying indigenous music and dance in rural Uganda and Uzbekistan. He later received his advanced degree from the University of Washington in Ethnomusicology, the study of non-Western cultures.

Davidson was found dead at his home earlier today, his family confirmed. He was 70. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

Davidson was a teacher to the core. He started teaching Sunday school at the tender age of 13 and took charge of his church choir at 15. But if anything, he was a messiah for movement. Davidson fundamentally believed that the way we think and move influences what we say and do.

Davidson was born July 20, 1946. He joined the Denver Center’s former National Theatre Conservatory faculty as Head of Movement in 1997 through its closure in 2012 and was largely responsible for the DCPA’s reputation as the national leader in teaching students how to incorporate the art of trapeze into theatrical productions. The NTC was the only graduate school in the country where studying trapeze for three years was not only an option, but a requirement.

“He could help turn an MFA actor into a cowboy from Texas, and then into a 17th century aristocrat,” DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson told The Denver Post. “A lot of people don’t fully understand that isn’t simply clothing or dialect, but a physical process.”

Davidson celebration
To RSVP your attendance at Bob Davidson's life celebration on April 9, click here.


His influence on the NTC's students was profound. A group of alumni led by Steven Cole Hughes (currently appearing in the DCPA's An Act of God), John Behlman and Eileen Little created a trapeze-based theatre company in New York called Fight or Flight, comprised almost entirely of NTC graduates. The troupe produces original works and aerial adaptations of classic stories.

Davidson "changed a lot of tangible things about my life," Behlman wrote in tribute. "He's the reason I was ever introduced to the trapeze, and the source of a lot of joy and strange stories in my life. The world is significantly less interesting without Bob."

Matt Zambrano, a member of the final graduating NTC class, called Davidson a brilliant teacher and student. "He was the man who taught me to fly, how to hold my head high with invisible strings and how to appreciate the space between things," Zambrano said.

Bob Davidson. Photo courtesy DCPA EducationDavidson has collaborated with many directors on productions of Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht and Shakespeare. He frequently choreographed productions for the DCPA Theatre Company, most recently a fully immersive movement adventure called Perception, which played out simultaneously as the audience toured several DCPA Education studios. The show was described as “a walk through a mind-bending, fantastical excursion where nothing is what it seems, and where every twist of your journey toys with your senses.”

Read our recent faculty spotlight on Bob Davidson

Davidson began exploring aerial dance on the triangular low-flying trapeze in 1986 and established his own aerial dance company in 1988. His epic, signature works were considered to be Rapture: Rumi and Airborne: Meister Eckhart, which have toured throughout the U.S., Europe and the former Soviet Union. He also choreographed successful aerial versions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for Seattle’s Intiman Theatre as well as Portland Center Stage.

(Story continues below)

Video bonus: Masters students fly to poetry of Byron:

Video highlights from the National Theatre Conservatory class of 2011's movement project inspired by the poetry of Lord Byron. Performed April 23, 2009.


He was still teaching public classes as a faculty member for DCPA Education as recently as November. Asked what makes him a good teacher in a recent interview with the DCPA NewsCenter, he said, “Possibly because my education was so multi-disciplinary. And possibly because I’ve been doing it for almost 60 years!”

Bob Davidson. Perception. Photo by Adams VisCom. DCPA Education Director Allison Watrous is a graduate of the NTC, and she considered being trained by Davidson on the trapeze to be an esteemed pleasure.

“After my first year of graduate school at the NTC, everyone told me, ‘You seem taller’ - and it was true,” she said. “My already tall self had grown an inch because of trapeze and movement work with Bob. But I not only grew taller physically, I grew in artistry, passion, presence, creativity and love of the world because I met him.” 

Davidson took particular pride in becoming certified in teaching the Skinner Releasing Technique way back in 1969, “making me the oldest living certified teacher of this technique in the world,” he said. SRT, he explained, “is a form of kinesthetic training that is essentially non-intellectual, yet image-oriented. So when SRT precedes an actor’s monologue work, the monologues generally improve greatly. It seems less strain, fear and ego are involved in the presentation — and more clarity, dynamics and confidence are the result.”

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Davidson remained founder Joan Skinner’s primary assistant at the University of Washington throughout the 1970s, becoming the director of the Skinner Releasing School in the 1974. He was a leading dancer in her American Contemporary Dance Company as well as the Music and Dance Ensemble.

Bob Davidson. 1Davidson trained more than 65 teachers to be certified in SRT all over the world. “I am so passionate about it, I sometimes do it for free,” he said, “and it is a rigorous, challenging, sometimes painful 12-week commitment.”

Watrous called Davidson "an extraordinary teacher who had a superpower to help actors find the power of connecting to their bodies,” she said. "He inspired so many artists and actors to carve space and take on the world - and he will forever inspire me.”

Davidson is survived by his sister, Peggy Nield.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


Photo gallery: Off-Center's Perception in 2015:

PERCEPTION- Off-Center at the JonesPhotos from 'Perception,' choreographed by Bob Davidson for the DCPA's Off-Center. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Photos by Adams VisCom.

Additional testimonials

Steve Jones, NTC, DCPA Theatre Company's 'As You Like It': "Bob taught me how to lift my skull to the heavens, plunge my feet down to the core of the Earth and how to fly with all of my heart."

Geoffrey Kent, DCPA Fight Director: "If anyone deserves flights of angels, it's Bob."

Alaina Beth Reel, student: "This man unleashed something in me, and made me surprised by how my own body could move. He was an incredible teacher I was lucky to have met and to have practiced under. Bob, thank you for all the lessons I practice daily and long to share with others. The Denver theatre community has another dark hole in its heart today."

Curtiss Johns, student: Bob, you changed my life. You changed the way I looked at art and for that I am grateful. You changed the way I thought about theater and for that I am grateful. But most of all, you changed the way I move though this world and for that sir, I am forever in your debt. I, like so many of us who danced the dance of gossamer threads, will miss you terribly. But we will have you and the gifts you gave us in our bodies, minds and souls."

Susanna Florence Risser, student: "This wild, mild, giant of a man shaped my artistic life as deeply as anyone I've known."

Linnea Scott, student: Bob's spirit, grace, and suppleness are qualities that cannot be easily forgotten. His teachings were such a special gift, and I am so immensely grateful to have come in contact with his wisdom at such a young age.

A Bob Davidson 800 1
Photo below courtesy of DCPA Education.

36 comments

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  1. Julie Ludwick | Mar 02, 2017

    Bob was my mentor, friend and colleague for over 30 years and I found him to be one of the most generous people I have ever known.

    He had a magical way of helping dances come alive without stepping all over them. In 2013 he was kind enough to say "Yes" when I emailed him to say that I had a vision that he would be the dying patriarch in a new aerial work and would he come to NYC to be in it?

    His work is in everything I do - teaching, aerial dance, and just remembering to breathe while I do the dishes. I sense his spirit  everywhere yet miss him every day.

  2. terry welch | Feb 20, 2017
    We were boyfriends between 1972 and 1977. He taught me how to dance and he helped me see that there is no meaning to life except to experience it. My mother was very fond of him too. She was seriously ill the entire length of time he knew her. He showed her how to add vodka to her infusion device. He would sit on the end of her bed watching Laverne and Shirley, while she smoked Camel straights and he, Shermans. He stood behind me at her funeral in 1976.

    No one could match his many gifts as a teacher, performer, friend, spiritual leader, and comedian. He has left an enormous legacy in the hearts and minds of his hundreds if not thousands of students. Even in the 1970's we'd be walking on a street and one of his old students would say 'Oh Professor Davidson, it's so wonderful to see you!' And not remembering who they were he would always say ' Oh hello, I just don't recognize you with your clothes on!'

    Adieu my old friend,
    Terry Welch Landscape artist

  3. Charles Campbell | Feb 20, 2017

    Dear Bob, I am so lucky to have studied with you. Your integrity of movement, and of being, was rare. You had the gentlest way of deeply challenging all of us who worked with you. From first meeting you in the 70s, to the extraordinary work you did with us in Airborne: Meister Eckhart, to my most recent study with you in 2008, you were never anything other than gracious, humorous, delightful, direct, and sweet - with an occasional stinging barb thrown in for flavor. You gave yourself completely to your art and life and you will be missed by all who knew you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, lovely one.

  4. Shirley Kollmann | Feb 17, 2017

    so sad to hear about Bob...I am sure he is soaring in the clouds singing to us all

    Thank you for you artistic , inspiring life , that brought out so much beauty in all of us

  5. Pat Graney | Feb 16, 2017

    OH Bob Davidson - although you've been long gone from Seattle, you will be as missed as you were cherished here by the Seattle Dance Community......Rest in Peace Fabulous One....  Pat Graney

  6. JEAN PAUL | Jan 10, 2017

    My dear Bob, what a sad period of my life. After losing my wife on December 8th, I am now losing one of my best friend. Even though we did not see each other very often in the past years due to the distance, you were always here for me, my wife and my kids ! You even offered to come to France and stay with us so you could take care of Stephanie my wife who was ill. A big heart, always happy, a very sensual and relaxing voice, very calm..... I will miss you, kiss and fly with my Stephanie wherever you both are 

    JEAN PAUL   PARIS  FRANCE

  7. Linda Tripp King | Jan 02, 2017

    Having played in our Mabel, MN high school band with Bob, (he on french horn), and square danced with him for our local group, I was touched at an early age by his grace, intelligence and dignity. God bless you on your journey, dear Bob! Linda Tripp King

  8. Carolyn J. Scheve | Dec 29, 2016

    Carolyn Scheve, MD

    I met Bob after a performance in the mid-1980's.  Little did I know he would become an important part of the team that taught me to walk again.  I had a serious spinal cord injury and was told "you'll never walk again".  But thanks to Bob and Joan Skinner and lots of other folks I'm alive and doing well.  I will deeply miss him, but much of his essence is in my bones and in every movement I make.  I still believe he could fly, he just used the trapeze in public so he would't shock folks!  You are flying with the angels now.  

  9. PatVanHemelryck andJacques Duringer | Dec 27, 2016
    Although I have a partner in life, born a few months after you, Roberto, you were my teacher and partner in movement.  My heart aches with cherished memories.  Both Jacques and I are deeply affected by the death of this wonderful person.
  10. Pete Bagley | Dec 27, 2016

    I had never see Bob's work but I was always thrilled to meet the man. Vibrant alive and yet with an inner peace that would touch all who came in to contact with him. My late wife and I first met him a few years ago whilst he was working in Coventry, UK. He rapidly became a good friend to us both and really enjoyed our garden. Nothing seemed to please him more than pottering around the various flower beds.

    Even this year I felt honoured that he asked me if he could spend a few days here rather than going straight back to USA after the problems in Turkey interrupted his teaching schedule. I was so pleased to see him - little did I realise that it would be the last time.

    A generous, warm hearted man. A great loss.

  11. Stuart Dempster | Dec 26, 2016

    Bob was amazing. He outfitted me with a climbing harness complete with carabiners. He then suspended me from the ceiling of University of Washington's Penthouse Theater with my instruments. I didn't use trombone but had garden hoses outfitted with trombone mouthpieces, conch and various toys and small bells. He would grab one of the hoses and twirl me around while I also twirled another hose. A whole new take on getting hosed...

    A wonderful human being, and it is a great loss especially to the SRT community, but also to certain musicians such as myself. I miss him deeply.

  12. Peggy Davidson Nield | Dec 24, 2016
    Brother Bob, I mourn. I grieve. And I rage-
  13. Yoko Murao | Dec 24, 2016

    his teaching of SRT is still in my body.  His introduction to SRT gave me cultural & personal affirmation.  I miss his generosity & magical gardening.

  14. Naomi Scher | Dec 24, 2016
    I am so sad to hear of Bob's death - yet I imagine his spirit soaring, as his body did in life, and like so many of of us experienced because of him. Fly on, beautiful man!
  15. Chris Rusev | Dec 24, 2016
    Robert and I were partners for some 15 years in Seattle. These were rather hard times both financially and professionally: a time when: SRT was evolving from being the American Contemporary Dance Company, working as the musical director for The Bathhouse Theater and exploring the "craft" of the trapeze. He was a remarkable, talented, and sensitive person. He had a profound effect on me and others.  I shudder, reflecting on all I learned and experienced from, with and through him. May he rest....
  16. Nancy Smith | Dec 24, 2016
    Bob, along with all the faculty in Seattle was one of my Skinner Releasing Technique teachers from 1979-85. He introduced me to the low-flying trapeze in 1986 and it led to my lifelong work with Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance in Boulder. Over time, I developed my own blend of releasing and aerial that I teach around the country. Bob came to aerial dance through a student, Brook Klem, of the mother of aerial dance, Terry Sendgraff. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Bob once he moved to Boulder and to produce his work at our annual international Aerial Dance Festival for several summers. He was my friend, my mentor, my teacher and now he will continue to live on through all of us whose lives he touched. Head strings, scud runs, melting rising, deep totalities, gifts of flight... Miss him so much already.
  17. Consuelo Gonzalez | Dec 24, 2016
    Oh dear Bob! So grateful to have seen you dance in Seattle, your grace in movement truly transcendent. So lucky to have been guided by you in my Skinner Releasing Training in 1991! Your kindness, irreverence, and quiet amusement will not be forgotten. But what is burned in my memory is the unique group of your own movement signatures, and these will feed and inform me forever.
  18. Serap Meric | Dec 24, 2016
    I am  one of the his lates student from Turkey, Antalya. He was our teacher traning faciliater. In a very short time what we share together was enough to get influence about his precence and knowledge deeply. I have never forget his advices about movement, dance and life. I am thankfull to him and deeply sad that I could not see him again.. It is not easy to lose one with a lot of precious riches.
  19. Barry Briggs | Dec 24, 2016
    I was fortunate to have Bob as a friend and teacher for many years, beginning in 1975. However, the most important thing I learned came not through his teaching, but from his being. He revealed that living in human form was a spiritual activity. That changed my life forever. 
  20. Şebnem Selışık Aksan | Dec 24, 2016
    I am not surpised however greatful to read more about this exceptionally beautiful man/artist/teacher and sadned to know that he will not be leading and teaching the Skinner Releasing Teachers Traing couse which began last summer in İstanbul Turkey. I only took few Skinner Releasing classes from him two years ago, the aura in his presence at first reminded me of a most admired teacher of mine another exceptional artist Anthony Tudor. I feel sorry to have missed working and being in the presence of this illuminative human being. Certenly a master soul to remind, to emagen and to recall for all who came to contact Bob Davidson.
  21. Denney Goodhew | Dec 24, 2016

    Will forever cherish jumping off the many performance cliffs and spreading wings together. Seattle, SF, NYC, Phili, DC, Warsaw.

    RIP Bob, oh beacon of soaring iridescence . . .

  22. Phelyx | Dec 24, 2016

    Thank you, my friend, Bob. You amazingly took my 44 year old self to places I had never been. You put me in the sky but also affected my performances for life. I don't think anyone else could have managed to get me to even attempt the things you made (relatively) easy. 

    The thread from my skull to the heavens has a name now.

  23. Suzanne Kenney | Dec 23, 2016

    Bob ignited my passion for flying and aerial dance in 1995 it was fate for our paths to cross . I literally watched him seemingly float through the air on a trapeze I was mesmerized that was 21 years ago as a cast member of Midsummer Nights Dream  in Portland Oregon .

    My life's work  and path was changed forever. I have spent the past 2 decades as Artistic Director of Pendulum Aerial Arts  So sad to hear of his passing but he leaves an enormous legacy to be so proud of . I hope your flying free Bob.

  24. JayneBernasconi | Dec 23, 2016
    Bob's legacy will live on in the book Aerial Dance (Nancy Smith and Jayne Bernasconi). Aerial students at Towson University read about him every semester and they love his underworld lessons and theories along with using the apparatus as metaphor instead of just an apparatus to lift them off the ground.  His views on aerial dance were some of the most discerning and discriminating because of his lack of tolerance for the same old same old.  After being in the field of aerial dance and theatre for so long, Bob continued to push the boundaries and challenged his students and dancers to go deeper (sometimes to the point of contention) but he wanted to provoke in such a way that brought out the raw truth in that particular moment.  He was one of a kind and we will miss you dearly.  You're free....go soar the cosmos and universe dear Bob!
  25. Stephanie Sarantos | Dec 23, 2016

    A wonderful person teacher and friend. Bob was in my mind just a few days ago. I am sure he lives onnear with the ways he touched so many lives . I am so sad that his life has ended.

  26. Kris Wheeler | Dec 23, 2016

    I loved dancing and teaching with Bob!  

    We performed and taught together for 2 decades - both in the Skinner Releasing Dance company and his aerial dance company.  He was a reliably consistent, perceptive and kind teacher, and a courageous performer and director - I feel blessed to have known him.  He will be missed by so many of us!

  27. Keith C. Schnip | Dec 23, 2016
    I was privileged to spend many wonderful days in The Tramway Building watching and observing Bob and his classes of NTC Students.  Their diaspora across the nation is truly a terrific bloom of Bob's cultivation.   
  28. chad heery | Dec 23, 2016
    I liked Bob, met him at the university of washington while we were both in the dance department, he with Joan Skinner, me with Ruthanna Boris.  I wonder if we could have his birth and death dates?
  29. Chris Davis | Dec 23, 2016

    So many people must be feeling this loss. A gifted and dedicated teacher and performer. A warm, bright soul.

  30. Christian Swenson | Dec 23, 2016
    So sad to hear this news. Bob and I shared the stage together back in the late '80's in Seattle. Dancing with him was a most special treat. He brought forth beauty in everyone.
  31. lee archer | Dec 23, 2016

    He was one of the good ones. His grace and gentle nature attracted and inspired us all. we will miss him

    lee and Sheri Archer

  32. Kevin McGuire | Dec 23, 2016
    Bob's teaching was the most profound experiences  anyone could have as a performer or a person.
  33. Moses Villarama | Dec 23, 2016
    I'll miss you, Bob.
  34. Chris Wiger | Dec 22, 2016

    Bob's students will be his living memorial for decades to come.  Fittingly one of them started rehearsals for "Jitney" on Broadway just today.  

    Chris Wiger, Former PR Manager, Denver Center Theatre Company

  35. Brian Be, actor, dancer, student | Dec 22, 2016

    I am a movement addict. Bob was one who taught me the power of Stillness amidst the movement. " he likes to play with others, " Bob suggestively  noticed aloud  how about me during a few classes.

    His intuitive guidance trained skills and  kind ways are indelible  in me..

    I first met him during a masterclass workshop and he was playing the piano for us. His fun observations were quick,  "you're singing omniscient.  you're everywhere," then he would move on ( until his next wonderful blurt came for us to relish ).

    Farewell lovely soul .

    _

  36. Rachel Ducat | Dec 22, 2016
    He was always a light in the room and that smile could cheer anyone's day!!! He will be missed by many! RIP!!!

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    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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