October 19th marked the kickoff of Wonderbound’s 2022-2023 season with a thrilling
vampire piece titled Garrett Ammon’s Penny’s Dreadful. Set in Paris’s 11th
arrondissement in the 1980s, this unique tale explores themes of life and loss by
following Penny, a young waitress, as she turns into a vampire and struggles with the
resulting changes in her life. It runs from October 20-30th in Wonderbound’s temporary
warehouse space as the company’s new venue undergoes exciting renovations. The
production takes full advantage of this improvised space, ushering audience members
into raked seats that push right up against the marley, leaving not a bad seat in the
house. As they sit in anticipation, audience members are met with an elegant Parisian
skyline along the back wall accented with a red sky, hinting that this isn’t going to be an
everyday fairytale story.
Wonderbound has mastered the art of storytelling through dance using a contemporary
ballet movement vocabulary, and this performance does not disappoint. The ensemble
fully commits to their dual roles as cafe patrons and vampires, conveying
the contrasting personalities
of these characters through not only their facial expressions, but their movement and physicality. When they
enter as vampires with their slow, bound movements, you feel chills crawl down your spine and your breath gets caught in your chest as your fight or flight reflexes activate.
Wonderbound artists in Garrett Ammon’s Penny’s Dreadful. Photo by Amanda Tipton. 2022
Emily Poli brings a voracity to her Penny that is seamlessly entwined with an underlying
layer of humanity. You can’t help but feel sorry for her as she succumbs to her
uncontrollable urges. Her flawless technique and control in transitions between
movements are complemented by her animated stage acting that reaches all the way to
the back row of the audience. Combined with this acting, the wide, open space creates
an intimacy between the audience and performers, which is especially effective during
scenes in which Penny kills clueless cafe patrons. You can see the desire and lack of
control in Penny’s eyes as each ensemble member struggles to hold onto life with a
characteristic vibratory and spaztic gesture.
The production also effortlessly combines music and lighting elements to enhance the
storytelling. The show opens with classic French songs and bright, warm lights to
welcome the audience into a Parisian cafe and create a light-hearted atmosphere. The
music and lights shift to darker tones in the scene in which Penny turns into a vampire, highlighted in sharp, direct lighting from specials.
These lights make you feel slightly uncomfortable as if you are looking into Penny’s brain and its mental battle. I wasn’t sure whether she was actually killing people or if she was just struggling to repress the intrusive thoughts whenever they came in. Either way, it instilled me with a sense of sympathy for Penny and her lack of agency in her actions.
The standout design element, however, is the set because it is practically another
performer on stage. It consists of two simple white walls with slight abstract, angular
elements, but their wheels allow them to be transported around the space by
performers. Penny and other characters walk through one doorway as it zooms
upstage, swoops around, and provides another doorway for them to walk through
downstage. This makes it seem like they are truly strolling through the streets of Paris.
The fact that ensemble members are moving these sets also contributes to the
vampires’ ever-looming desire throughout the piece to convince Penny to join their
The piece mixes these dark and ominous themes with elements of humor and warmth.
The last scene sticks out as one of the most authentic portrayals of love,
companionship, and the process of growing old that I have ever seen on stage. Emily
and Nathan Mariano, who plays Penny’s love interest, embrace each other’s movement
qualities and perform flawless duets as they grow older together. They move as one
body across the stage, helping and supporting each other through life’s obstacles and
struggles. I left the theater with a sense of warmth and hope that I would find lifelong
relationship’s like that. I look forward to seeing Wonderbound’s future productions this
season and experiencing the unique ways in which they too achieve the company’s
mission of “deepening humankind’s common bond.”
Presenting Denver Writer & Editorial Board
Gabrielle is a graduate from the University of Maryland- College Park where she earned
a BA in dance and a BS in ecology and evolutionary biology. During her four years
there, she performed in works by Ping Chong, Leslie Felbain, Alvin Mayes, Orange
Grove Dance Theater, and Pearson Widrig Dance Theater. She moved to NYC after
graduation where she performed with the 92nd Street Y Musical Theater Development
Lab, Mary Seidman, and Nicole Colbert Dance/Theater. She is very excited to continue
her dance journey in Denver!