LOOK: Denver celebrates the first night of Kwanzaa

A true community event, the barrier between performers on stage and audience in seats was a porous one, with people streaming across the border to become part of the action. Here’s what we saw.

Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

This year Kwanzaa, the festival of African-American culture, celebrates its 50th year. To honor this non-religious winter holiday, a team of community stalwarts including Brother Jeff Fard, Ms. Cleo Parker Robinson and Pastor Terrence Hughes, among many others, put on a celebration at Robinson’s dance studio at the former Shorter A.M.E. Church at Park Avenue West and Washington Street.

A true community event, the barrier between performers on stage and audience in seats was a porous one, with people streaming across the border to become part of the action. Here’s what we saw.

The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls sits at the front of the theater as all of the children in the room are called to the stage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre is packed on the first night of Kwanzaa. Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre is packed on the first night of Kwanzaa. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
161226-kwanzaa-kevinjbeaty-52
Heritage African Drum and Dance performer Hadiya Brown moves under the spotlight. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jamari Robonson Hampton performs a convincing MJ to "Billie Jean." The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Jamari Robinson Hampton performs a convincing MJ to “Billie Jean.” (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A spinning dancer under spotlights. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
A spinning dancer under spotlights. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The crowd stands to applaud as community elders are honored on stage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
The crowd stands to applaud as community elders are honored on stage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
People in the crowd raise their fists. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
People in the crowd raise their fists. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Drummers make rhythms that move the show all night long. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Drummers make rhythms that move the show all night long. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
NyImah Bryant watches from backstage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
NyImah Bryant watches from backstage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Chet Sisk watches from stage right. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Chet Sisk watches from stage right. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Living in Christ faith ministries' Pastor Terrence Hughes watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Living in Christ Faith Ministries’ Pastor Terrence Hughes watches from behind the curtain. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Ms. Cleo Parker Robinson, the namesake of this theatre, addresses the crowd. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Ms. Cleo Parker Robinson, the namesake of this theatre, addresses the crowd. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Ms. Cleo Parker Robinson, the namesake of this theatre, addresses the crowd. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Ms. Cleo Parker Robinson speaks to the crowd on the first night of Kwanzaa. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The audience reaches above symbolizing sunlight, one ingredient in making a seed grow. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
The audience reaches above symbolizing sunlight, one ingredient in making a seed grow. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Your Souls Movement's Kalere Hines dances onstage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Your Soul’s Movement’s Kalere Hines takes a bow onstage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
"Brother" Jeff Fard directs the show from stage right. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Brother Jeff Fard directs the show from stage right. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
All of the college students in the audience are called down to the stage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
All of the college students in the audience are called down to the stage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls reads the names of people lost this year, as written in by the audience. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls reads the names of people lost this year, as provided by audience members. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Lesley Pace, Ms. Black Colorado 2017. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Lesley Pace, Ms. Black Colorado 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Mayor Michael B. Hancock watches clandestinely from the side of the theatre. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Mayor Michael B. Hancock watches clandestinely from the side of the theater. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches dancers under the spotlight. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches dancers under the spotlight. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jamari Robonson Hampton performs a convincing MJ to "Billie Jean." The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Jamari Robinson Hampton performs a convincing MJ to “Billie Jean.” (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A silhouette backstage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
A silhouette backstage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
"Brother" Jeff Fard peps up dancers before the show. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Brother Jeff Fard peps up dancers before the show. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
"Brother" Jeff Fard directs the show from stage right. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Brother Jeff Fard directs the show from stage right. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre is packed on the first night of Kwanzaa. Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
The Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre is packed on the first night of Kwanzaa. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Dancers watch from backstage. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Your Souls Movement's Kalere Hines dances onstage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Your Soul’s Movement’s Kalere Hines dances onstage. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.