Inside Barbie's brain

Local choreographer may have retired, but creative juices still flow


— Choreographer Barbie Bonfiglio said there are two kinds of people in the world stack people and drawer people.

Stack people feel comfortable keeping things in piles all over their house, while drawer people fold and organize.

"All around (stack people) appears chaos, but in their heads everything is organized," she said. In the minds of drawer people, nothing is organized.

"I'm a drawer person," Bonfiglio said.

Years ago, Bonfiglio put together a humorous dance piece about her theory. One yellow shirt was passed around the stage, fought over, folded and unfolded until one dancer finally put on the shirt and walked off stage.

The end.

Days after the performance, someone who had seen the piece came up to Bonfiglio.

She said, "I totally understand that feeling. I can never figure out what to wear."

She didn't "get" it. But that was OK for Bonfiglio.

"I take my thoughts and put them on a body and hope someone gets it," she said. "That doesn't usually happen, but if I can evoke an emotion in someone, that's my goal."

If the audience doesn't fully understand the subtle symbolism of her pieces, anyone who has been human on this earth for more than 12 years can understand the overall message of her work.

Many of her pieces are about loneliness.

"Round Peg" is a piece set to several Beatles tunes. The stage is full of dancers all representing people who don't fit in.

"There is a walking sequence in the piece," Bonfiglio said. "I told them, 'Don't make eye contact.'

"I didn't want it to be pretty," she said. "I wanted it to be sort of uncomfortable."

She explained to the dancers, "I'm never more alone than in a room full of people. I want to see that kind of loneliness."

Bonfiglio has everything anyone could ever ask for: a husband who understands and loves her, four talented daughters, a house she and her husband designed and a family-run business. But Bonfiglio sees the world out of wet green eyes and to talk to her, one feels there is something always under the surface, something snapping to get out.

That is why, at 42, even though Bonfiglio considers herself retired from dancing, it will never be completely true. That thing inside her will always need expression.

True. Bonfiglio has already lived the life she hoped to lead and is ready for the next chapter.

It's slowly becoming a rare and more rare thing to see an original piece of Barbie Bonfiglio choreography.

She handed her dance company, Shining Mountain, over to colleagues years ago. It became the Promethea Dance Project.

The first year out, Bonfiglio stayed away from the theater.

"When I first announced I was retiring, a friend asked me how I could just shut my brain off," Bonfiglio said. The truth is, she can't.

"I don't know how other people do it, but usually I hear a song and I can choreograph immediately. I see the dance in my head.

"In fact, I have a dance in my head right now that I can't wait to put on someone," she said.

Bonfiglio has been involved in dance since her first ballet lesson at 5 years old.

"Any dancer worth their stuff starts with ballet," she said. "It's like learning the scales when you start playing the piano."

At 13, she moved on to other forms of dance and eventually earned her degree from Loretta Heights College in Modern Dance.

After graduation, she moved to New York City. She stayed for two years, dancing in audition after audition. There was a lot of competition.

"There were days when I would step off the train and there would be 2 billion bun heads in front of me," she said. She lived in the YWHA dormitories with her best friend.

"I left New York when I figured out I was good enough," she said.

After two years in the city, she took a position at the Baltimore Dance Arts Ensemble, but always in her thoughts and plans for the future was David Bonfiglio, her future husband.

They met the January before she left her home state, Colorado, for New York.

"I already had my ticket," she said. "If I hadn't, I might not have gone."

David Bonfiglio moved to Pennsylvania, his home state, that fall to be within commuting distance of his future wife.

Barbie Bonfiglio and husband David moved to Steamboat Springs 12 years ago. It took less than a week in town before Barbie Bonfiglio was involved in the local dance scene. It happened by chance, while she was opening a checking account.

The woman at the bank was also a dancer and halfway into their conversation, she put a closed sign on her desk and walked Bonfiglio to the dance studio.

David Bonfiglio worked at Lyons Drug in Steamboat, but "we wanted our own store," she said. It wasn't until 1995 that the drug store in Oak Creek, a landmark of Main Street, went up for sale.

These days, Bonfiglio works the front counter of the store and raises her four daughters.

As she serves sodas and rings customers up at the register, one must wonder if they know what is going on in "Barbie's Brain."

She gave audiences a glimpse a couple of years ago.

Four dancers crawled into a cloth bag made of stretchy material and the "brain" to life.

Short music samples were mixed with thoughts like "Did I turn off the iron?"

The sound of a child's voice whined "I'm hungry. Are we there yet?"

A thousand thoughts jumping over each other, trapped in a zipped-up brain one neat package just like the mind of a drawer person.


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