Wonderbound Goes West: A {Dd} Exclusive with the collaborators

 In Archives, Dd Exclusive
Wonderbound dance artists  Sarah Tallman and Damien Patterson rehearse for "Gone West." (Photo: Amanda Tipton)

Wonderbound dance artists Sarah Tallman and Damien Patterson rehearse for “Gone West.” (Photo: Amanda Tipton)

Wonderbound is celebrating the essence of Denver in its final production of its 2013-2014 season with Gone West.

The story takes place at a campground, with the interpersonal dynamics of the characters as the groundwork for Garrett Ammon’s choreography. Michael J. Henry of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop wrote new poetry for the piece, and Denver musician Ian Cooke composed new work, for a collaborative feast only Wonderbound can produce.

I chatted with Cooke and company seamstress Rachael Kras about their involvement in the ballet, and their perspective on the evolution of creating new work.

{Dd}: Some of this music includes lyrics. Tell me about them. Did they already exist?

Ian Cooke: Many of the songs already existed, and Garrett listened to them and choreographed to them. There are several new songs that were written for the ballet. Most of those are instrumental, but the lyrics in the ones with words are about people adapting and surviving rough times by working out their differences and respecting the earth.

{Dd}: Are they based off of notions you had when you saw the dancers in rehearsal? Expand on the creative process with this ballet.

IC: I’ve really enjoyed being able to come sit at the keyboard during rehearsal and compose with all the beautiful and talented Wonderbound Hares in the same room doing what they do best. Working in a new space is always good for sparking creativity. It’s so different from siting at my piano at home.

I’ve been so inspired at Wonderbound that in one week I had three new song ideas just pour out of me. That’s saying a lot, because I’m the sort of musician who takes months, sometimes years, to write songs.

My inspiration for Gone West comes from the relationships humans have with each other, and with the earth. I think periodical exposure to raw, unfiltered nature gives us clarity and helps us sort out our issues. Nature can be harsh, but even when it causes traumatic events, it helps us evolve. Developing this theme with Wonderbound and Michael J. Henry has been a joyous process. I feel that telling this story together through dance, poetry, and music is one of the best, most human ways to do so.

Seamstress Rachael Kras had the task of dressing the dancers for a campground themed ballet, which was also a chance to showcase a bit of mountain flair and Denver city style.
{Dd}: What do you think Denver’s fashion scene is? 
Rachel Kras: As costume designer, I’m more aligned with costume versus fashion for sure. But as far as the fashion sense here in Denver, from my perspective, it’s wonderfully diverse. We’ve got a little bit of everything here. I can usually tell from a person’s clothes what their profession is, what they like to do in their free time, what their personal beliefs/habits are, and generally where they hang out. I feel like Denver is in this wonderful pocket of isolation between LA, NYC, and Chicago, that allows our local fashion and culture to evolve on it’s own. So often I’ll see an article of clothing and I think; “Oh that’s so Boulder” or “Oh that’s so Colorado.”
{Dd}: How did you incorporate that distinct culture into the costumes?
RK: The costumes for Gone West are an exercise in stereotype, parody, private jokes, and real experiences based on things the production team and myself have seen in Colorado. When I go camping and hiking here, I get a chuckle out of observing what people wear to participate in different activities. You see everything from people who are ‘appropriately’ dressed to those who look like they are ready to spend the day at the mall. I really wanted to capture that aspect in this show. We have the Italian American family that look like they are ready to board a yacht in Miami Beach; the hippie dad and the modern hipster kid; the conservative family where the dad has some military influences to his clothes; and the fly fishing couple who are dressed the most appropriate for the outdoors. To top it all off, there are the teens who can’t possibly be bothered to change into something more correct for nature-based activity. In addition to the more fun ‘inappropriate’ clothing, I’ve also incorporated a lot of Columbia PFG, REI and Under Armor into the costumes.

We always have a little twist in Wonderbound shows. So for some Garrett Ammon magic, we have our outlier in Sarah Tallman who represents a fairy/earth nymph/mother nature type character and narrates the show. Michael J. Henry’s inspiration for the poetry in Gone West is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. So as a nod to that, I created a 16th-century Elizabethan corset and added silks and tatters for Sarah’s look. It’s finished off with a modified, anachronistic puff-vest that is a fashion staple here in Colorado. I think if we could put her in hiking boots and still have her dance we would!

It’s been really fun and challenging to get all of these elements into the show within the very stylized color palette. And then of course, it’s all been modified to accommodate for our amazing dancer’s range of movement and choreography. I hope the audience gets a kick out of it as much as I have.
Catch the final weekend of Gone West April 12 and 13  at Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center. For more information, visit Wonderbound.com or call 303.292.4700.
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