Leah Casper’s home sings as loud as she does. Rubber eyeballs stare vacantly from atop a bookshelf. Upturned umbrellas turned jellyfish hang from the ceiling above a large keyboard.
Casper is a local choreographer and composer. She is also the artistic director of 6Degrees Collaborative, a Fort Collins and Denver-based creative hub for musicians, dancers and performance artists.
All of their shows are completely original, using live music composed by Casper or another collaborative member. They also feature original or improvised choreography.
Their most recent show, titled “Gods and Monsters,” was an interpretation of Homer’s “Odyssey.”
The performance itself received mixed reviews, but the company is incredibly proud of their efforts.
“The last performance she put together was a huge improvement from the ones prior,” dancer Ixchel Levendosky said.
Levendosky serves as Casper’s mentor and has watched her artistic style mature.
Levendosky acknowledged the unpaid nature of the collaborative poses serve as challenges for the group. She said it is difficult for the cast to meet regularly and rehearsals can sometimes be unclear.
Despite these challanges, Levendosky said, “Leah [Casper] is a real go-getter. She does not give in easily and I really admire that about her.”
In addition to preparing a fourth original performance, Casper is channeling this ambition towards a more altruistic goal – leading workshops for special needs groups, senior citizens and children in less affluent areas. Casper said she wants to impact those who might not otherwise be exposed to dance.
“We work on basic dance alignment, technique and terminology,” Casper said. “I do a lot of improv games and have them create their own pieces.”
Casper currently runs the workshops by herself, but recently obtained nonprofit status and is applying for grants to expand the program.
6Degrees also offers affordable dance classes for adults. Levendosky, who also serves as an instructor at the Front Range Classical Ballet Academy, similarly tries to “keep prices low to provide a service for people who normally wouldn’t be able to dance.” Casper also offers both scholarships and work-study opportunities.
These community-oriented attitudes lend themselves to a flourishing internal sense of community, where collaborative members feel like they are part of a family.
One relationship especially demonstrates how intimate dance can be.
Choreographer and dancer, Lorenzo Martinez-Gomez, speaks little English and Casper speaks minimal Spanish, yet they bridge their language barrier through movement.
“The bond we have from creating together for over a year is very close,” Casper said. “I feel like we really know each other even though we can’t speak the same language and that’s very cool.”
One of 6Degrees’ main functions is to foster close relationships and provide a network of support.
Choreographer and dancer, Rita Corey, said, “I’ve been in a lot of collaborative projects that weren’t as collaborative as this. We really support each other in our ventures.”
Casper will be performing in FRCBA’s production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream with one of her daughters, Naomi, on May 27, 2017 at the Magnolia theatre.
Casper strongly encourages artists to practice their craft often and study it, if possible.
“As an artist, you are your product and you have to invest in it,” she said. “That time really helps you refine your craft and focus on it.”
Casper also emphasizes an artist’s own confidence in their ability to create, noting that she herself has become more brazen and thinks her work deserves to be seen. While her own style produces soul work – a blend of blues, country, and rock – she has learned to adapt to group needs and “let some of that structure go and focus on what each dance needs to hear.”
6Degrees is running an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign through April 21, 2017. They provide tiered incentives for donations, including mp3 downloads, signed posters and free tickets to shows.
“To me, dance is a way to communicate music kinetically and visually, and music is a way to communicate dance,” Casper said. “To me, dance is a necessity.”