Growing Up

Growing Up

According to concept director, producer, choreographer and performer Gwendolyn Hope Gussman, Nourishment is “a series of immersive and site-specific performances that bring together artists driven to create and perform new work related to the human condition.”

Upon entering the furniture-free, historic house nestled near Cheesman Park, the audience is presented with its first interactive encounter. Sipping a warm cup of chicken broth with mirepoix, we are told to write on a piece of paper our interpretation of, “What does it feel like to grow up?” Performers then take the paper from us and causally clothespin it to the fabric and twig-tree installation sprawling throughout the cozy wood laden rooms.  

The dancers then circulate and place themselves amongst the rooms mouthing a conversation.It goes from inaudible to common conversation volume with dancers speaking over one another, each describing their morning ritual. This is while Jett Kwong Kelly plays the Chinese guzheng and Trevor New the viola. The interdisciplinary talent of the troupe is quite clear as they seamlessly switch from instrument to movement to song.

As we are ushered outside, the audience sits in chairs surrounding the dancers who are seen seated in a circle playing spin-the-bottle. This placement of audience as voyeur feels naughty and invasive. We are watching what is typically secret from adults, hidden encounters of youthful innocence. As this settles into our minds, the performers once again shock, by individually beginning to tell different accounts of their youth and the experiences that led them to “growing up.”

When I was a kid, I was sure I would change the world.
I’m part of something bigger, an ever growing script.

Here they are, intimately exposing their remembered stories of youth as we,the audience, nosh on deconstructed BLTs sipping rosé. (It should be noted, scenes and intermission are paired with a dram of liquid or small bite.) The taste sensations bring you out of remembering your own youth to the present moment and the movement, song and sound of the 5 female, 3 male company.

Back inside, we see how growth turns into pressure. The pressure to perform. To get up to be pushed back down to what we should be. We should be: grateful, successful, content, worry less, have a back-up plan… Faster and faster, we hear the “shoulds” and the culmination of faster and faster bodily movements hashed in repetition.

Outside again and into the slog of life, the sense of holding back is woven into another personal story of another dancer as light is shed once more upon the inner dialogue, the inner doubt, the failure, the never-quite-good-enough based upon the expectations of others, parents, life.

The piece continually centers around exposure, release, contraction and the realization, the notion, that maybe, upon looking back, you were perfect; exactly what you were supposed to be.

Interdisciplinary, visceral, aloud and alive, this performance gives warm hugs coupled with awkward silences, stares and introspection that jostles. What does it mean to grow up? Who does it right, and when is it complete? The takeaway, to me, was to be kind, spread joy and love to those who are dear to you. The company clearly felt trust, compassion and strength within and from one another. In this community, acceptance and comfort was palpable. I look forward to seeing if Nourishment will have an evolution in Denver again — our souls could use it.

W. Celeste Davis Stragand: Published author, showcased artist and Denver transplant, W. Celeste Davis Stragand is not new to the art world. Her passion for delving into the root of existence and movement will challenge and praise both choreographers and the audience.  A graduate of Texas A&M University, Celeste holds two bachelor of arts degrees, one in Chemistry and the other in English. She is also a graduate of Naropa University holding a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A former national slam team poet, Celeste is a graduate of the Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program, sits on the Programs Committee for Women’s Transportation Seminar and works for Denver Regional Council of Governments managing their Way to Go Program ( mobility options for those in the Denver region.  Her passion and enthusiasm for the kinetic arts will frolic and frenzy through the upcoming season of performances with many hopes for an encore!