Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

AHSS prof’s dance company stays in motion

Every professor has that outside-the-classroom activity that helps define him or her as an academic. For some it’s scientific research; for others it’s novels or poetry. For DU Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Jim LaVita, it’s modern dance.

LaVita is the co-founder (with his wife, choreographer Katie Elliott) and artistic co-director of 3rd Law Dance/Theater, a Boulder-based company that specializes in evening-length narrative works accompanied by multimedia displays. Appropriately, LaVita also teaches classes in DU’s Department of Digital Media Studies.

“There are other people who do similar things, but the key difference with us is that it’s not the technology that’s featured, it’s the art,” says LaVita, who constructs audio and video montages to accompany 3rd Law’s productions. “And we want to be sure that the technology only enhances our artistic work. It’s never featured or foregrounded; it’s always part of the ambience.”

Another aspect that sets 3rd Law apart from other dance companies is its exploration of social issues through movement. A piece called Bread and Salt examined the conflict between traditional values and modern life, while The CleanRoom critiqued digital media for its lack of sensory experience beyond vision and hearing.

“All of these concerts are informed anthropologically,” says LaVita, who teaches anthropology and digital media studies courses at DU. “We did a piece called Lost in Place that reflected on issues of immigration, which we treated as the idea of the loss of a sense of place — a sense of place is what you have where you come from, and how you lose that when you go someplace else.”

For its latest work, 3rd Law is presenting In Pieces, which features 12 dances that are either elements of old shows or the beginnings of new ones.

“We had a number of segments or distillations of other concerts that we’ve used and a number of new ideas we wanted to test out as the seeds for future evening-length works,” LaVita says. “So that’s what this concert is about. It’s a montage of a number of ideas that we’ve had that we’ve liked that people in Boulder and Denver haven’t seen, and a number of ideas that we want to turn into new evening-length pieces in the near future.”

In addition to the evening performances, collaborations are a big part of 3rd Law’s creative mission. The company has created pieces with the Denver Art Museum, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, among others.

Elliott also teaches modern dance classes under the 3rd Law banner, and Elliott and LaVita conduct 3rd Law workshops and residencies around the country. The pair has been married for 13 years; the dance company has been around for nine.

“We got married long before we thought that we would actually have a dance company. It didn’t bring us together,” LaVita says. “That may be one of the reasons we still survive. We have a lot of disparate ideas, a lot of clashing, but usually we can work them out. [The collaboration] works very well. It is very exciting, and there’s a lot of emotion there.”

3rd Law Dance/Theater performs In Pieces at 7:30 p.m. April 9 and 10 and 4 p.m. April 11 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets are $17–$23; call 303-440-7826 or visit


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