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An estimated 600 million people were watching the Apollo 11 mission live on television in 1969. Shocked, bewildered and amazed, they gaped at the 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket that launched Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. into space for humankind’s first steps on another planetary body. Armstrong's fateful words as he walked on the moon came to define the space race and inspire a generation.

Since last year, Flagstaff has been celebrating Lunar Legacy with events marking its role in the Apollo 11 mission. This Friday and Saturday, Canyon Movement Company presents "Launch," its ninth annual Spring Dance Festival, at the Clifford E. White Theater on the Northern Arizona University campus. Tickets for the event are $15 for general public, $10 for students.

Along with Velocity Dance Company, CaZo Dance Company, Abby Collier (FALA), and Human Nature Dance Theatre, Canyon Movement Company has put together a show that takes us on a journey through the emotion of the moon landing.

Canyon Movement's executive director, Gina Darlington, said its annual dance festival has changed a lot since its inception nine years ago. This year, it will feature Lowell Observatory historian and author Kevin Schindler as a guest speaker. Darlington said when she saw Schindler had been nominated as a 2019 Viola Award finalist for Excellence in Community Impact (individual), it all clicked for her.

“I just think it’s a good way to connect the science and the arts,” Darlington said of having Schindler introduce the event.

Darlington was 5 years old when the Apollo 11 mission enthralled the world. She too was moved by the sheer weight of the event. Now, 50 years later, she’s directed a solo dance for “Launch” inspired by Collins, the only astronaut on the mission not to step foot on the moon.

While Armstrong and Aldrin planted the stars and stripes on the surface of the moon, Collins remained in orbit. His famous photograph of the Lunar Module, containing Armstrong and Aldrin, with the moon’s surface in the foreground and Earth in the background, is said to have captured every human in existence, alive or dead. (Even if you were not alive in 1969, the argument is that the materials from which you were made were present on Earth.) Collins, the astronaut who took the photo, is only the person who isn’t in the frame. 

Collins waited in the command module for more than 21 hours. As he drifted behind the moon, the module lost communication with Earth and he wrote: “I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”

Darlington said she’s been drawn lately to stories of isolation, and Collins’ experience seemed to fall in line with her curiosity.

“How alone and yet how awesome to be that one person who isn’t part of all of Earth’s existence in the picture. Not that it’s a sad piece, but the idea is that he’s there and a little afraid,” she said.

In another piece, “Grounded,” choreographed by Nathaniel Haviland and Sarah Thomas, dancers in late ‘60s garments represent NASA’s ground team and the people who were watching the event unfold on television.

“The whole rest of the performance is focused on the astronauts and the moon, so we wanted to shift the focus, just for a moment, to the families of the astronauts and the people that were staying on the ground,” Haviland said.

The choreography, set to Bon Iver’s “22 (Over Soon)” combines modern and hip-hop movements to illustrate the tension and uncertainty of the times.

“Launch” closes out the performance with projections of the Apollo launch and moon landing. The choreography stems from various bits from CMC’s past performances.

“It’s kind of a culmination of everything and celebrating that [the astronauts] did come back, that it was successful,” Darlington said.

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