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.
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.”
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.
Davidson 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.
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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!”
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.
Davidson 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:
Photos 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.
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.
Photo below courtesy of DCPA Education.