Arvada Center Blog

Physics meets movement: 3rd Law Dance/Theater

Who knew that dance could teach you a science lesson?

By Leslie Simon

Photo by Annabelle Denmark

3rd Law Dance/Theater has been considering the physics of movement for almost two decades. Beginning their life at the start of this millennium, this award-winning dance company creates conceptual performances that explore current societal events through metaphors and the freedom of dance.

3rd Law Dance/Theater asked their audience for their favorite moments and then dug back through years of original choreography to put together a retrospective of their work. They bring this piece of artistic history to the Arvada Center on June 1!

Collaboration is key as 3rd Law combines the input of current Artistic Co-Directors Katie Elliott and Paul Fowler, the lasting influence of Co-Founder Jim LaVita, their dynamic troupe of dancers, and influence from the physical spaces that dance pieces are specifically created for. We spoke with Katie Elliott, 3rd Law Dance/Theater’s Co-Founder and Artistic Co-Director, to find out how they work, what we can hope to see in the future, and the physics behind the whole thing.

Photo by Catrine Turillon

Q: What is the genesis of 3rd Law? Can you explain the principle behind the name?

Katie Elliott: Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – is the philosophical and physical backbone of the company.

3rd Law Dance/Theater is an award-winning contemporary dance company that has been pushing the boundaries in movement, media, visual art, digital construction, theater and music since 01.01.01, the first day of the new millennium.


A: What is your creative process when creating new work?

KE: At 3rd Law Dance/Theater the creative process is dynamic and collaborative, the push and pull of ideas is alive between choreographer, dancer, and composer. Equally important is the connection with the audience through the power of live, in-the-moment performance – a cornerstone of the company’s vision.

Photo by Annabelle Denmark

What are some of your favorite moments since the company began in 2001?

KE: All of our favorite moments have grown out of all the different communities and collaborators with whom we have connected. Highlights include: Boulder Bach Festival, The Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and a variety of individual artists.


Q: What do you hope to see for the future of 3rd Law?

KE: Expanding the communities we’ve built through our Dance for Parkinson’s Program, Open Space showcase of Colorado choreographers, our classes serving the beginning to professional level dancer, and our educational outreach programs which support young art makers.


3rd Law Dance/Theater performs a retrospective of their work in the Arvada Center Main Stage Theatre on June 1. Come celebrate Colorado dance – tickets are on sale today!

Heather Gray Photography

A Conversation with Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical’s Gary Holmes

By Leslie Simon


Travel back to the time of the cultural hotbed that was the Harlem Renaissance – the music was swinging, bands were big, and the jazz scene continued to rise in popularity and influence. A funny and heartfelt look at love, Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical rediscovers the music of prolific songwriter J.C. Johnson in a story about love, set in Harlem when the culture defined cool and the scene was hot. We spoke to Gary Holmes, Co-Bookwriter of Trav’lin, about his inspirations, J.C.’s music, and the journey this musical has taken since the beginning of its creation.

Q: The Arvada Center is excited to produce the regional premiere of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical. Why do you think this story set in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance is so appealing and resonates with audiences outside of Harlem?

A: TRAV’LIN is a story about LOVE.  That is what J.C. Johnson wrote mostly about and was the main factor in my determining what tales TRAV’LIN would tell.  The show delves humorously into the follies of love and then digs deep into the hurt that love can be. And those foibles and hurts go beyond a time and a place. The three couples of TRAV’LIN represent three different stages and aspects of love, with all of them are trying to figure what it’s all about! Add to that the energy and raw feeling of the music and era underlying it all and….

Q: It is almost one hundred years since the setting of Trav’lin took place. What is it about the songs of J.C. Johnson that make them so timeless, and why do they still resonate with audiences so strongly?

A: J.C. wrote very simply and directly. His lyrics go right to the core of whatever emotion the song required. And if he was just composing the music, as he often did, he had the ability to exactly match the tone of the lyrics, whether it be a big band, jazz or blues beat. He often said he learned his craft on the streets. I believe that’s where his got his ability to hone in on what the tune or lyric was about, and go right there. No flowery words or heavily intricate tunes. And he really knew how to write a tune!

Q: How has the musical grown and evolved since its debut at the New York Musical Festival?

A: I started developing the show while I was at the Dramatic Writing Department at Tisch. The basic structure, plot and characters in the show were pretty much set back then and are essentially the same to this day.

The New York Musical Festival experience was great. NOTHING helps you figure out what needs to be done with a show more than putting it up in front of an audience not made up of friends and relatives, and having it done with excellent actors and crew. This describes the presentation at the New York Musical Theater Festival, which was extremely well received. And while the basic structure, character and plots have stayed constant since the show was first conceived, that and succeeding productions have shown and allowed us to refine and deepen the show to balance out the lighter and more serious parts. We even changed some of the characters’ intentions and foibles.

We have been blessed to see several sets of excellent actors do full productions of the show – and each production and each actor has brought new revelations. Some were like “How did we NOT see that flaw in the writing before” to “Wow, that actor really opened up other possibilities. Let’s think about that and expand on it!” And we know that the wonderful actors at Arvada (under Rod’s direction) will teach us even more!

Q: What was the most important lesson you learned from your mentor, J.C. Johnson?

A: OH, this is easy! Respect your fellow human being and don’t be too quick to judge. Also, he enjoyed the little things in life, he noticed the little things in life – and he respected them, which is what made him such a good creator and person.  One interviewer of J.C. wrote about him: “He was a gentle flower of a man.” And he was.

J.C. Johnson

Q: What do you hope Arvada Center patrons take away from the musical?

A: I certainly hope they are entertained and enjoy the songs and characters’ roller coaster ride, but I also hope they are touched by J.C.’s music and his message about love. And while TRAV’LIN is anything but a history lesson, I hope the music and stories encourage folks to be open to discovering more about J.C. and the amazing place Harlem was (and is) and that era and the everyday folks who lived it.

Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical closes this Sunday, April 28.

How Trav’lin came to be

As told by Gary Holmes

I first met J.C. Johnson when I was about ten years old.

I was playing in the back room of the bank in Wurtsboro, N.Y., that my father managed. He called me into his office and introduced me to an older gentleman he said was a songwriter from New York who now lived in our village. That man turned out to be J.C. I had recently started piano lessons and was passionately interested in my lessons and music in general. I chatted a bit with Mr. Johnson about my playing and the kind of music I liked, after which he excused himself.

Within the hour, he returned with a published copy of one of his songs, BELIEVE IT BELOVED, and gave it to me. On the front he had written, “GARY, If you learn to appreciate good American music, you should succeed, J.C. Johnson”. Thus began a friendship and mentorship that lasted until J.C.’s passing in 1981.

I often visited J.C. at his house. On Saturday afternoons, I would go to the living room concerts he held with fellow musicians. A few were from J.C.’s past career, most notably the violinist and conductor, Billy Butler. But mostly, I would bug him to tell me stories – stories of Harlem and the people he knew there, famous and otherwise. He did, but always reluctantly – he was not one to toot his own horn.

As a teenager and in college, I started doing little shows at the barn in the town park. I would ask J.C. to come up and play a tune or two, and he was always the hit of the show. When I was driving him home from these events, he told me that as much as he liked his songs being in Broadway revues such as ME AND BESSIE and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, he would prefer to have them in a book musical, with a full plot and characters. He also indicated that if such a project were done, he would like me to do it.

At J.C.’s wake, I mentioned this conversation to his widow Julie and said I would like to create a full show using his music. She gave the project her total support and I went to work. The first thing I did was take J.C.’s 500 songs, literally lay them out on the floor and start picking the ones I thought would fit best. The pile quickly diminished to about 40 – and looking at those 40 songs, it became clear there were three levels of love stories to be told. (J.C. mostly wrote about love!)

Out of J.C.’s songs and stories, Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical was formed.

At the same time, all the stories J.C. had told me were swirling around in my head, inspiring the characters and feel for the musical. Remarkably, although the show has changed in many ways, the basic characters, songs and plot structure have remained very similar to the original 1981 concept.

By 1984, I was a graduate student in the Dramatic Writing department of N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts. Julie and I visited Allan Shapiro, then a music and Broadway attorney, to see about legal representation for Trav’lin. Allan was instantly interested in the project, became passionate about it as well, and took on the role of creative producer. In that capacity, he was intimately involved in the creative and writing process.

Then, in the late 1980s, life got in the way and the script was put on the shelf. Allan and I went on to other cities and projects until 2003, when I decided to start up with Trav’lin again. I contacted Allan and asked him to come back to the project, this time as co-author. And then, well….life got in the way once more, and we didn’t start working in earnest until mid-2005.

In 2007, we had a private reading of the show in New York, followed by successful public readings in 2009 and 2010 at The York Theatre Company in Citicorp Center as part of their Developmental Reading Series. Then in October, 2010, nearly 30 years after the journey began, Trav’lin was fully staged for the very first time as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The journey continues to unfold . . .

Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical plays at the Arvada Center from April 9 – 28.

Students take the lead with Warren Tech and Arvada Center Art of the State collaboration


By Leslie Simon

When the Arvada Center hosts Art of the State, a juried exhibit of local artists, the beautiful artwork on the main posters and invitations is hard to miss.


Every year, Director of Galleries Collin Parson teams with Warren Tech’s Scot Odendahl, choosing one lucky student to provide the main artwork while getting a chance to experience working in graphic design at a professional level. As the students hone in on their unique ideas, they are given assistance in ways to really amp up their work to a professional standard.

“We give the students the concept, theme and title for the winter and spring exhibits. They get to create graphic murals that we incorporate into printed invitational postcards,” Parson said.

While previous years saw only Graphic Design students participating, the program continues to grow and offer artistic opportunities for students in other concentrations to be a part of Art of the State. ODendahl remarks “This year we have expanded once again to create a multi-disciplinary program called the IDEA (InterDisciplinary Enterprise Apprenticeship) Group that consists of Computer Science & Cybersecurity, Game Development, Graphic Design & Digital Photography, STEM: X-TREME Engineering, and TV/Video Production. Students now have the ability to work together with other Warren Tech programs to solve multi-disciplinary problems in a creative environment.”

The collaborative program for Art of the State is a great way for students to get a head start in their creative profession.  Each winning selection is adapted into various sizes and forms, from the 8’x8’ mural in the Main Gallery to the postcard invitations that have the students name credited on them. “It’s a win-win for everyone as they get a professional setting to experience and we get amazing and unique graphics while extending our mission of arts education,” said Collin.

With both the Arvada Center and Warren Tech being important community institutions in Arvada, it only makes sense that there is an overlap for some of the students.

“Our students love working with the Arvada Center, and many of them have been coming to events there since they were in elementary school. Seeing students have an experience working with a venue that has been a great influence on their early life impact and continue on into their future careers has been amazing to witness,” says Odendahl.

Warren Tech graphic design student Hunter Beckett with his design. Photo courtey of Jeffco Public Schools.

So when you see the poster for Art of the State 2019 this year with its beautiful state flower, the columbine, know that the artwork came from the hard work of a Warren Tech student artist and the guidance of the Arvada Center. What began as a student artwork exhibit grew into those students creating professional work for us, and we look forward to seeing how the relationship continues to grow.

Art of the State 2019 begins this Thursday, January 17 with a free reception from 6 – 9 pm. In its third iteration, Art of the State 2019 garnered 1,555 entries from 566 artists in a call for entry that was open to all Colorado artists utilizing all media. It runs until March 31.

CJRO Swings at the Center!

The Center is proud to welcome the Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra for a three-concert series this upcoming season!


The CJRO is Colorado’s premier large jazz ensemble. They perform classic big band and modern large ensemble jazz. It includes top-notch saxophone, trumpet and trombone players, as well as piano, bass, drums, guitar and vocals.

Executive Director Art Bouton, who’s a professor of saxophone at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, founded the band three years ago with the mission to perform the best music with the best players.

A Song In My Heart – Paul McKee is one of the finest trombonist, improvisors, composers, and arrangers anywhere. This is not hyperbole. A veteran of the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Chicago jazz scene, and now faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder; his inclusion to the Denver environment has taken the trombone situation from good to awesome in short order. This clever arrangement features Paul and CJRO tenor saxophonist, Eric Erhardt!”

These upcoming concerts cover the music of jazz legends, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Miles Davis! You’ll be likely to hear hits like Bye, Bye Blackbird and One O’Clock Jump, as well as songs made famous by Anita O’Day, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. The CJRO swings hard, and takes no prisoners!


Al Sharp Photography

The concert season starts October 15 – with “Ella and Sarah, the Great Ladies of Jazz!”

Ella and Sarah, the Great Ladies of Jazz

Hits from the big band era! Heidi Schmidt will present the best songs from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, along with songs by Anita O’Day and Rosemary Clooney.

Saturday, October 15, 2016. 7:30 p.m., on the Main Stage

Turn Up the Basie!

How do you choose just two hours of music from the legendary Count Basie library? This concert also features songs recorded by Billie Holiday, Joe Williams and Frank Sinatra.

Saturday, January 21, 2017. 7:30 p.m., Main Stage Theatre.

Miles Ahead – The Miles Davis Legacy

The Miles Davis album “Kind of Blue” continues to be the yearly top selling jazz album 57 years after its release. The CJRO will honor this jazz icon with arrangements of his compositions along with great jazz standards he made famous.


Al Sharp Photography

Don’t miss the opportunity to see this talented jazz ensemble – tickets and Concert Series subscriptions are on sale now. Combined music subscriptions for the CJRO and Jeffrey Siegel Concerts are also available by contacting the Box Office – 720-898-7200.