“When you touch the celestial in your heart, you will realize that the beauty of your soul is so pure, so vast and so devastating that you have no option but to merge with it. You have no option but to feel the rhythm of the universe in the rhythm of your heart” (Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations).
Walking into a Wonderbound show is akin to tuning the television to a random channel: there is no easily satisfied expectation, no “typical” experience. Wonderbound thrives on challenging the traditional ballet stereotype, even pushing the boundaries of dance performance with innovative collaborations. Their 2017-18 season opener, Celestial Navigation, was no exception. The company took the audience on a science-fiction-inspired ballet journey at the Performing Arts Complex at Pinnacle Charter School on October 14, 2017. The performance also served as the album release of the Ian Cooke Band’s THE FLIGHT I FLEW, and the two were inextricably intertwined.
Had my eyes been closed during the performance, I still would have been transported to another world by the overtones of minor chords and modern percussion of the Ian Cooke Band, who performed live throughout the performance on an elevated stage incorporated within the set design. Combined with the choreography, projection and scenic design of artistic director Garrett Ammon and the costume and lighting design of Kaitlin De La Garza and Karalyn Star Pytel, the dancers successfully teleported the audience to an alternate galaxy.
The opening pas between dancers Morgan Sicklick and Ben Youngstone, as the space engineer Marie and her husband Maxwell, a theoretical physicist, playfully utilized partnered leaps and lifts that floated and explored the stage space. As the dancers settled into bed for the night, the light-hearted music transitioned to a strong percussive beat as an ensemble of hipster pirates snuck onto the stage, led by Johannes, danced by Damien Patterson. The movement of the ensemble was a visually stimulating hybrid of ballet, breaking, contemporary, and popping and locking. In a creative fight scene, the “space pirates” assaulted Maxwell behind a chalkboard, giving the audience humorous glimpses of the ensuing battle. After Maxwell is finally abducted by the pirates (they are in desperate pursuit of the physicist’s breakthrough equation), his wife awakens and goes on a quest through a dangerous universe to rescue him.
Marie’s pursuit of her husband leads her to encounter a variety of thrilling and dangerous characters. The audience is taken on an intergalactic journey, encountering aliens brilliantly projected onto the scrim and fought by Marie and her new friend, Amelia (a space aviator), danced by Nayomi Van Brunt. Amelia saves Marie from certain death by a creeping creature made up of dancers, flexible piping, umbrella handles, and glowing eyes. Blacklit, this beast was breathtakingly dramatic, requiring the dancers to move in sync to create the effect of a hovering and attacking otherworldly menace. Van Brunt’s dancing was powerful, her solo consisting of male components such as barrel turns and double assemblè tours en l’air.
This strong solo was a counterpoint to her more youthful dancing in a flashback scene, a pas de trois danced with her father (here is the twist–her father is Johannes, the space pirate and therefore an adversary of Amelia’s) and mother, who didn’t escape the umbrella-handled space creature that nearly gobbled Marie. The audience is given insight to the human spirit through Johannes’s activity. While he is indeed the “villain,” there is a reason behind his anger and criminal activity: his heartbreak and grief. The pas de trois was a poignantly touching scene, displaying dancer Amy Giammarrusco’s leggy extensions and elevated leaps and Patterson’s long lines and dynamism.
The use of twists, both choreographically and plot-wise, are part of what makes Wonderbound a unique breath of fresh air for the Colorado dance scene. While the plot plays on the aspects of experience that drive the human character, the choreography and costuming explore our concepts of gender and roleplay. The gang of space pirates, as well as the ensemble of silver space robots, showcase androgyny: both the male and female dancers of the cast were nearly indiscernible, dancing both lyrically and dynamically in sync. The pas de deux between the two female dancers Sarah Tallman and Sicklicks’ characters incorporated partnered lifted leaps much like a traditionally gendered pas would. In fact, the tables were turned as the male ensemble showcased their sensuality, dancing around Marie while scantily clad–a refreshing change from the typical exposed and seductive female being on display.
The storyline even flipped the typical “male hero rescues hapless female” denouement, with Marie instead finding and rescuing her husband from Johannes and his gang. They finish the production the way it opened, with a lovely and lilting pas that displays the equality of their partnership, both characters intimately lifting one another to the band’s melodious refrains.
Wonderbound continually pushes the limits of convention through their artistry, deconstruction of social standards, and brilliant stage productions. Denver is lucky to have Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay among the creative community, and this is quite clear in their latest production, Celestial Navigation.
Briana Selstad Bosch is a Denver native. She trained in classical ballet with the late Karen Williamson of American Ballet Theater, Kris Kehl of Colorado Ballet, and Carla Parks’ Academy of Classical Ballet. She went on to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Colorado State University with Melissa Corr and Jane Slusarski-Harris, While at CSU, Briana obtained her degree in Technical Journalism. Following her undergraduate study, she went on to achieve her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California – Irvine, while training in dance at the Maple Conservatory and working on the brand management team at Disney. Following graduate school, she returned to Denver, where she danced with Ballet Ariel for four seasons and performs guest artist work.
Briana founded Ballet5280 in 2017, a ballet company that strives to create a healthful and supportive environment for dancers. They are in their first season.