As a Denver native, Cleo Parker Robinson has always been an iconic powerhouse in the dance world. She founded the 48-year-old Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble (CPRDE) and serves as its artistic director, dancer and a choreographer. Her illustrious career gifted iconic works like Ellingtonia, Barrel House Blues and Ragtime to the Denver dance scene — performances that will be featured this weekend in her new, three-performance season of Rhapsody in Black.

Cleo Parker Robinson in 1996. Photo courtesy of Cleo Parker Robinson

When asked about dance, Cleo stated “dance is a powerful conduit to understanding, to get to know your self into a new place of transformation. It helps you understand and overcome racism, sexism, and go to a new place of deep caring. It teaches trust, compassion, and with passion. Dance has also been the way to invoke courage and speak out against injustice of all kinds.”

This is a special milestone performance as it will be Cleo Parker Robinson’s last performance of Barrel House Bluesa dance role she has held for a whopping 24 years after her mentor, Katherine Dunham — at the age of 70.  This legacy will then be passed into the hands of Chloe Abel, the CPRDE’s principal dancer.

Rhapsody in Black explores and celebrates the “cultural dynamics of Black Americans in Paris” with prominent figures like Josephine Baker, Katherine Dunham, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Also stated in the press release, “Cleo Parker Robinson and CPRDE Associate Artistic Director, Winifred R. Harris, are premiering their new collaborative work, Rhapsody in Black, which delves into the intricate and passionate lives of African-American artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and activists who found a home for their creative and social vision”. The performance will feature music from George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Nina Simone. Robinson will be collaborating with Dr. Michael A. Williams as music director and Denver vocalist, Linda Theus-Lee.

Cleo Parker Robison. Photo by Candace Peterson.

While this weekend denotes the passing of the baton of an iconic dance role from a powerful legacy, Cleo Parker Robinson is not finished just yet. She will continue to choreograph and teach dance. Another opportunity to see her dance will take place in December of this year, when she performs in Granny Dances To A Holiday Drum.  


When asked about how she feels about this final performance, she gave a beautiful response about passing on the legacy: “I’m blessed to perform her work and that she [Dunham] and I were able to work together. I won’t say this is final; she passed on her work to me, I’m passing it on to others so it can live on. I want to pass this on as she passed it on to me. I’m able to dance; she taught it from a wheelchair. I will continue to teach her work and will always pass on her [Dunham’s] spirit.”

Do not miss out on this beautiful opportunity to celebrate a part of Cleo Parker Robinson’s legacy.

The performance will take place in Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts (University of Denver) 2344 East Iliff Ave at University and Iliff. The show runs only for three days: Friday, September 28 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, September 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased via the website,, or via phone at 303.871.7720.