Wonderbound 101: Where no one dances alone

by John Moore | Sep 20, 2017

Welcome back to the DCPA NewsCenter's continuing series called 'Get Arts Smart,' a fun introduction to a variety of cultural forms through the eyes of experts from local organizations. First up was Opera 101, with Central City Opera. Today: Wonderbound 101, which on Sept. 26 presents a preview of Garrett Ammon’s space-faring adventure, 'Celestial Navigation!' featuring live music by Ian Cooke Band. The full production will be presented Oct. 13-27.

WONDERBOUND!

'We must dream, we must work, we must be rigorous.
Only then might we glimpse the true possibility that resides within us.’

Evan Flood 800

Look who's talking:
Today's instructor is Wonderbound featured dancer Evan Flood, originally from Vineland, N.J. He has worked with LustigDanceTheatre in New Brunswick, N.J.. as well as Oakland Ballet Company, Molissa Fenley and Company and Zella Dance.


So, what's your deal, Wonderbound? We are an American dance company that mingles very human dance with a live music element. One of our productions feels a little like a concert mixed with a musical mixed with raw emotion that will set your soul ablaze. Every Wonderbound performance features live music and collaborations with artists across Colorado. We have worked with illusionists, poets, actors, painters and more. We believe dance is for everyone and we believe in an open creation process. We invite anyone to join us for our free rehearsals - anytime.

Read our Opera 101 primer from Central City

Our productions offer something for everyone. Do you like magic? We have collaborated with illusionist Professor Phelyx in our circus themed A Gothic Folktale. If you’re a fan of spoken word, perhaps Gone West would interest you – it featured the beautiful poetry of Michael J. Henry from Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Would being immersed in a fairytale inspire you? Winter, which took place in our studio space in the heart of Denver, featured 3D projections by artist Kristopher Collins, scents by Michelle Roark of Phia Labs and food from restaurants around Denver. For those with varying musical tastes, we have also worked with bands across genres. Some examples include, Flobots (an alternative hip-hop band), Chimney Choir (gypsy folk-rock with an indie twist), Ian Cooke (pop + classical = popsical), Hal Aqua and the Lost Tribe (Klezmer) and the Colorado Symphony (classical).

 

Video above: Wonderbound collaborated with Curious Theatre Company on an original live play with dance called 'Dust' in 2016.



Origin of the species
: Dance has always been there. As night fell around the cooking fires after a long day of hunting woolly mammoths and gathering herbs, we would let the magic of the stars above direct us in primal movements that bonded us as a community. As time went on, the art form evolved, gaining structure and pushing dancers into new feats of athleticism. Contemporary ballet as we know it is a mixture of classical ballet and modern dance. Originally danced only by men, classical ballet (something that every Wonderbound dancer has training in) really began to gain momentum with King Louis XIV of France who created, and starred in, several ballets, and formed one of the very first schools of dance. Contemporary ballet began to emerge on the scene when George Balanchine, the Father of American ballet, decided to start shaking things up and moving out of the neat boxes that classical ballet had put itself into. Today, Wonderbound ballets are visceral and powerful, focusing less on exact technique (although that is there) and more on raw emotions and fantastical storytelling. 


Merce CunninghamYour greatest dead rock star: Merce Cunningham was a very talented American choreographer who died in 2009 at age 90. He was known for unique collaborations – something that really resonates with Wonderbound. Merce was one of the first to create ballets with with visual artists, architects, designers and musicians. His most famous collaborations were with musician John Cage and used chance in the creation process. Cunningham would flip a coin or roll a die with each side having a different meaning. For example, a six could mean six dancers, and a two could mean a certain series of pre-determined moves. At the same time, Cage would create a piece of music without seeing the dance. The first time the music and dance would come together would be on stage. This method was unique to Cunningham, who believed that music and dance did not have to be related.



Crystal-PiteYour greatest living rock star: Crystal Pite is an insanely talented choreographer with Kidd Pivot in Canada. She’s done some amazing and weird things using different mediums. Dark Matters is a crazy piece that uses a marionette in the first act, and then has the dancers move in a similar manner in the second act. Her The Tempest Replica takes Shakespeare’s familiar story and tells it in two distinctly different ways using dance, projections and (in one act) strangely intense costuming. It’s a stunning way to shake things up while drawing audiences who know the play intimately.



Up-and-comer:
Justin Peck (see video above) is an amazingly inspirational human. He joined New York City Ballet in 2006 when he was 18 and was promoted to soloist in 2013, which is unheard of for someone so young. His performance career is already impressive, but in 2008 he choreographed his first ballet on the company and since then he's made 25 more. His work is bringing a new fresher, and younger voice to the New York City Ballet repertory. He is especially known for using unique and cutting-edge fashions in his ballets. He has collaborated with a lot of different designers and has worked with Vogue Magazine and Harpers Bazaar. In 2014, he was named Resident Choreographer at New York City Ballet, and is only the second person in the history of the organization to have that title. And he has done all this by the age of 30. Impressive.



Garrett Ammon. Photo by Amanda Tipton.
Photo of Garrett Ammon by Amanda Tipton.

Who’s the biggest deal from Colorado?
We may be biased, but we really think it is Wonderbound Artistic Director Garrett Ammon. His willingness to collaborate across art forms is gaining national attention, and his innovative productions are changing the way people see dance in Denver.


CONTEMPORARY BALLET: A FIVE-WORD GLOSSARY

PASDEDEUX

Word 1The person who creates the dance moves you see on stage. Some ballet companies use multiple choreographers but at Wonderbound our ballets are either choreographed by Garrett Ammon or Sarah Tallman, who has been a member of the company for 13 years.

Word 2Literally translates to an impolite way of saying “horse manure.” It’s what we say to each other before a show, and it takes the place of “break a leg,” which would be disastrous for a dancer. This originated back in the days of horse-drawn carriages. You knew it would be a great show if the piles of manure outside the theater were high, because that meant you had a full house.

Word 3Our dancers rehearse eight hours a day, five days a week. And while we do perform contemporary ballet, our dancers take a classical ballet class each morning. The class is split into two parts. The first is barre, where the dancers stand at the long barres and do small foot exercises in place.

Word 4This is the second half of the classical ballet class. This is the more exciting part of class, where the barres are moved out of the way and the dancers leap and spin across the floor in mind-boggling combinations.

Bonus: Five Wonderbound phrases!

  • Mauve wall: One of Garrett Ammon’s signature dance moves, where a dancer will slide their straight arm up and in an arc as if they are standing next to a wall and their hand is brushing along it. It was originally created for Sarah Tallman, who got to pick the color.
  • Dawn Fay“PF!” (“Pelvis Forward!”): Ammon creates the ballets and then Wonderbound Producing Director Dawn Fay (pictured right) steps in and cleans everything up, making sure every move expresses exactly what they want it to say. You’ll often hear her shouting this to the dancers telling them to square their hips as they perform a certain dance phrase.
  • "Don’t be Extra”: Garrett says this to the dancers when he wants them to do something either very human or very simple, without any flourishes or fancy footwork.
  • “Take a risk" and "make a clear choice”: Garrett’s collaborative spirit extends to the dancers as well and he often gives them a lot of room to make a certain phrase of dance their own. The only thing he demands is that they are clear and deliberate about their choices. This is unique in choreographers but has the wonderful effect of letting you see a dancer’s personality come out on stage.
  • “Individuals, not Cookie Cutters”: Fay and Ammon use this phrase a lot when talking about the dancers. A lot of ballet companies are looking for a very specific body type. For example, Balanchine preferred dancers who were tall and thin. However, at Wonderbound, the dancers are all very different, and they bring unique skills to the table. The result is a stage filled with people of all different shapes and sizes who are good at drastically different things.



What is the biggest stereotype about your field?
We hear, “Dance isn’t for me,” or, “I don’t like dance,” far too often. Usually it is because the person has either never experienced dance or has only experienced only one performance in their lives. (Raise your hand if you’ve seen The Nutcracker.) Our productions are a world apart from what you think you know about dance. For anyone who is skeptical, I would encourage you to give it one more shot, come see a Wonderbound show. Or bring a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine (if you’re over 21) to our studio and check out one of our free live rehearsals. You won’t be disappointed.


How is your dance different from other dance? While both Colorado Ballet and Wonderbound focus on excellence in dance, Wonderbound’s mission focuses more on deepening our human bond to dance, increasing accessibility to the art form and bringing together artistic disciplines throughout Colorado through our collaborations.



A Wonderbound Ian Cooke 800

Photo of Ian Cooke above by Amanda Tipton. 

Wonderbound What would be my perfect introduction to Wonderbound? Two words: Sci-fi Ballet. Our season-opening production, Celestial Navigation, features all-new music from Ian Cooke and follows the adventures of our heroine, a space explorer who embarks on an Odyssey-like journey to the heavens in her trusty hot-air balloon. The costumes will be inspired by what people in the 1950s thought we would be wearing today. It’s going to be really fun. Celestial Navigation runs Oct. 13-27 at two Denver-area theaters. INFO


Lastly, finish this sentence, Evan Flood: I love dance because … "Wonderbound productions have the ability to reach inside your chest and cause your heart to plummet or soar. They can make you cry like a baby or laugh uncontrollably all with little or no dialogue. The language of dance is visceral and beautiful and best of all, universal."

SPECIAL THANKS TO WONDERBOUND
COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AMBER BLAIS



WONDERBOUND/Upcoming schedule

  • Celestial Navigation, with Ian Cooke Band, Oct. 13-15, at Pinnacle Charter School, 1001 W. 84th Ave.

  • Celestial Navigation, with Ian Cooke Band, Oct. 21-22, at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker

  • Snow, with Jesse Manley and His Band, Dec. 12-21, at Wonderbound Studio, 1075 Park Avenue West, Denver

  • Aphrodite’s Switchboard, with Chimney Choir, Feb. 9-11, at Pinnacle Charter School, 1001 W. 84th Ave.

  • Aphrodite’s Switchboard, with Chimney Choir, Feb. 17-18, at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker

  • Madness, Rack, and Honey, with the Colorado Symphony, April 27-29, at Wonderbound Studio, 1075 Park Avenue West, Denver

  • Madness, Rack, and Honey, with the Colorado Symphony, May 5-6, at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker



WONDERBOUND/Ticket information

Address
: 1075 Park Avenue West, Denver, CO 80205 MAP IT GET DIRECTIONS
Website
: wonderbound.com
Box office
: 303-292-4700
Twitter
: @wonderbound_
Instagram
: @wonderboundco

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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