Two dancers wearing white counterbalance their weight in an elegant dance move

Firebird and Catch A Fire Bring Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Tabanka Dance Ensemble Together for an Epic Weekend

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Norway-based Tabanka Dance Ensemble bring Firebird and Catch A Fire to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House September 16 and 17.

Cleo Parker Robinson and Thomas Talawa Prestø pose together for a photo inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House

Cleo Parker Robinson and Thomas Talawa Prestø

Firebird captures the spirit of the Hawaiian Islands with traditional gods and goddesses, such as Pelé, the Goddess of the Volcano, King Kamehameha, Queen Lili’uokalani, and more.

Cleo Parker Robinson, founder and artistic director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, said she was thrilled to collaborate with Tabanka Dance Ensemble.

“[Tabanka’s] distinctive perspective and creative excellence will undoubtedly enhance the depth and meaning of this production, leaving an indelible mark on our audiences,” Robinson said. “Their profound commitment to cultural exploration aligns perfectly with our vision for the Firebird performance.”

Thomas Talawa Prestø, founder and artistic director of Tabanka Dance Ensemble, offers the separate choreographic work Catch A Fire. This show is inspired by the work of reggae musician Bob Marley and refers to the Caribbean expression of resistance and a soulful, spiritual fight.

Two dancers wearing white counterbalance their weight in an elegant dance move

Photo by Martha Wirth

Catch A Fire represents that universal journey as we transcend the indignity of being treated as objects and embrace our path to personhood and being a soul,” Prestø conveyed. He also described personhood and identity as the pillars for Tabanka.

“The Tabanka Dance Ensemble was founded in order to promote and represent the existence of Black personhood and identity in Norway and Scandinavia,” Prestø explained. “In order to do so, we look globally for role models.

“Together, with Cleo Parker Robinson, we seek to create dance art rich and flavorful like soul food: affirming, soothing and spicy,” he added. “Through our combined efforts, we aim to ignite conversations, challenge perceptions and celebrate the richness of our shared cultural heritage.”

Tabanka implements The Talawa Technique™, a dance style that offers African and Caribbean practices for poly-centrism, multiple movement qualities, grounding and poly-rhythm. This dance even implemented math to determine precise body movements.

A dancer wearing a Firebird costume strikes a bird-like pose

Photo by Martha Wirth

“Algebra could facilitate the cumulative aspects of Africana Technique and could serve to write down aspect of rhythm to movement ratios,” Prestø said. “It allowed us to multiply certain qualities, tempos and rhythms with specific body parts. The notations were fed through a computer revealing which positions were most commonly [used] in relation to each other and specific movement qualities.”

Prestø described the sense of unity Tabanka Dance Ensemble felt with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

“We are from Norway, where no one believes that Black people could live,” he explained. “We look forward to showing what we have in common and what comes out of this highly welcome and highly improbable meeting. We have crossed the Atlantic to be together, and Cleo has made room in the circle. Now, let’s dance!”

Firebird and Catch A Fire
September 16 & 17, 2023 • Ellie Caulkins Opera House