As a setting for a dance performance, the Stanley Marketplace and its surroundings cannot be beat with its mash-up of history, aviation, demographics, and politics, nestled snugly between the cultivated greenways and paths of Stapleton and broken asphalt parking lots in Aurora. Control Group Production’s (CGP’s) Watching Night Falling literally and figuratively takes its audience on a journey inspired by air travel and birds. By turns whimsical, magical, and arresting, the ambitious performance showcases CGP’s creativity, experimentation, and collaboration.
The evening begins inside at Infinite Monkey Theorem’s second floor tasting room with “Happy Hour: A night on the town for birds of a feather.” Dancers Bailey Harper and Taylor King, dressed in vintage-style dresses and feathered cloche hats, dance among the patrons before taking their drinks at the bar. While appearing mirth-filled, the bar scene echoes Nighthawks, Edward Hopper’s iconic portrait of loneliness, especially when Patrick Mueller swoops in costumed as a hawk. Costume designer and artist Lonnie Hanzon created gloves tipped with a foot-long feather for each finger. These feather hands exaggerate Mueller’s movements, making his birdman transformation even more convincing.
While much of the performance compels and arrests, the next sections, “Lost Packages” and “Loading Zone,” seem weak in comparison. At the pre-performance check in, each audience member was assigned a boarding group. As part of boarding group C, I followed Mueller who explained the rules of the flight and distributed beat-up packages that had been hidden under staircases throughout the Stanley. While a clever concept, I got the sense that Mueller himself didn’t feel very comfortable playing along with the text he helped co-create. Still, audience members delighted in carrying packages that chirped and sang. Outside the Stanley, the audience reconvened in a small circle around Nicholas Caputo who spoke from his back on the ground in what I took for a drunken slur. Because the event occurred on a Friday night, the second busiest night of the week for Stanley, people going out to dinner or drinks wandered around us, questioning each other loudly what was going on and poking their heads into the group. It’s unfair to hold the actions of others against CGP, but the moment may have been better experienced elsewhere on the property, away from such distractions. It seemed gimmicky. Yet even during this section, I could appreciate the masterful production of the performance as a truck with a trailer quietly whisked the dancers away while Caputo told his story from the ground.
From here, the audience moves out of the creative re-purposing of the Stanley, following Mueller. We catch up with him at the edge of the parking lot marking Aurora proper and head toward Montview Plaza, a mostly empty strip mall with buckling, cracked pavement. In the loading dock area, King positions the audience. Some stand behind Caputo, who traces their features onto a mirror; others are moved to his side for an unobstructed view of Harper, now in a flowing, ethereal lime green dress with a matching ostrich feather in her hair. She is framed in the dock door, as provocative and intriguing as if an actual bird of paradise had stationed itself there. She creates odd, seemingly impossible angles with her limbs and moves with a glacier’s slowness that captivates and mesmerizes. After this, Taylor leads the group to a square of cardboard on the ground at the very edge of the lot. She dances as if on a raft in the ocean, her tiered blush-colored gown the sole bit of color as the trickle of the nearby stream and the peaty smell of its earth waft towards us.
Mueller then leads the group past a fence and into Stapleton, the immediate and marked difference of landscape as forceful as a slap in the face: new concrete pathways, smooth as an egg; expertly cultivated landscaping meant to mimic the natural land; quaint houses, their windows aglow in the distance; and all the while, the leaves of the cottonwood trees rustle like paper and the tall grasses swish in the wind as the sky turns from ombré to navy blue. Back in our boarding groups, Caputo leads us to the next performance at a detention pond conveniently equipped with amphitheater-like concrete rings. Harper, lit by a spotlight, appears like a bird at the water’s edge. She traces her muscle sinew with a black Sharpie before appearing to preen, fluttering, and ruffles to the melancholy tones of Caputo’s accordion. Afterwards, King, Harper, and Mueller invite the audience to sing a lullaby, printed inside the boarding pass: “Nighthawks.”
The performers break the audience into boarding groups again and recite a Lenape story about the dangers of flight before bringing the audience back together on a bridge, the Stanley Marketplace in the distance, to hear a brief history of Bob Stanley and Stapleton Airport. The stories convey the inevitability of sacrifice and the impossibility of stasis, the Lenape story through poetic myth and the Stanley/Stapleton story through history and then creative reuse and redevelopment.
On the way back to the Stanley, Mueller, with the help of King, systematically molts the cumbersome feathers along his arms and on his fingers. Just like that, he’s a regular man and takes off across the stream to join King and Harper on the opposite bank as they bolt up and down the concrete walls in coordinated movement before the group heads to a nearby seating area for the final section, “Nesting: where we come to roost.” The area has multiple circular slabs of concrete that reference both miniature stages and nests. Mueller, Harper, and King moved beautifully among and on top of the slabs with sweeping arms and swirling bodies before coming to a quiet close. Caputo finished the Lenape story on the final leg of the return trip. Once everyone had arrived at the Marketplace, Mueller announced, “Well, that’s it. We haven’t really figured out how to end except for awkwardly standing around.” Needless to say, after such a thoughtful, gorgeous, and varied three-quarter mile journey, the non-ending ending was a major let down, even more so because the cast and crew were highly aware of its failure.
Yet despite its (few) missteps, Watching Night Falling remains a performative triumph. Like CPG’s earlier neverhome, Watching Night Falling brilliantly leverages the built and natural landscape to crack open possibilities for performance in the twenty-first century, interactive or otherwise.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from Regis University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently sits on the board of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and was previously involved with CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in DailyServing, Quaint Magazine, and Scintilla. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about family dynamics in addition to editing a newspaper/zine about happiness for Denver Theatre District’s Happy City project with U.K. artist Stuart Semple.