On point

Wonderbound Ballet presents second run of 'a newfangled Western' with Gasoline Lollipops

Credit: Amanda Tipton

Before dedicating his life to dance, Garrett Ammon was first drawn to choir and theater as a kid in his native Arizona. There was just one problem.

“I would get too nervous,” says the current creative director and choreographer of the Denver-based Wonderbound Ballet. “My throat would lock up. I would be great in class, but the moment I got up on stage in front of people, I’d suddenly freeze — just blank. But that didn’t happen with dancing.”

After ninth grade, Ammon enrolled in a ballet school in Mesa — on a scholarship, as his parents bounced from job to job — and started transforming his obsession with MTV music-video choreography into a career. After attending a summer dance program in Virginia, his love for hip-hop and jazz movement drew him to San Diego in high school to audition for major dance schools. 

Ammon eventually became a member of Houston Ballet and later Ballet Memphis in Tennessee. That’s where he met Wonderbound Ballet President Dawn Fay, who was already dancing with the company when he arrived. The two fell in love, even though they were both in serious, but destined-to-fail, relationships — thanks in part to the intense connection naturally forged between dancers.

“You’re being incredibly intimate with each other all the time. You spend most of your waking hours together,” he says. “If you’re not a dancer, you can’t really understand what it is to be a dancer — not only the pressures and demands of it, but also the drive of it, the need to do it. Very quickly, we became partners off stage and we became partners on stage.”

After nearly a decade together at Ballet Memphis, with Fay’s career as a full-time dancer winding down as Ammon’s passion for choreography was heating up, the duo moved to the Centennial State in 2007 to take over Ballet Nouveau Colorado in Broomfield, and “abruptly retired, with only a few months’ notice, from dancing.” Five years later, on the other side of the Great Recession, Ballet Nouveau was split into the teaching-focused Colorado Conservatory of Dance and performance company Wonderbound Ballet. 

“By separating those two arms and letting them each focus on their respective missions, it allowed both organizations to kind of reinvent themselves and resolve the major financial challenges we were living through,” Ammon says.

In the decade since, Wonderbound has built a dedicated following thanks to the leadership team’s mixture of dance knowledge and experience, paired with a top-shelf repertoire of contemporary ballet productions that toe a delicate line between traditional and avant-garde. And with community programs like the company’s partnership with WellPower (previously Mental Health Centers of Denver), they’ve also been hard at work forging deep connections with the community they serve here on the Front Range.

Wonderbound dancer performs with backing music from Gasoline Lollipops in the 2020 run of ‘The Sandman.’ Photo by Amanda Tipton.

‘A newfangled Western’

When it comes to navigating that line between the past and future of the form, Ammon and Fay often bring in artists from outside the dance world. That includes beloved Colorado bands like Paper Bird and Chimney Choir, along with the company’s upcoming resurrection of The Sandman — its “newfangled Western” ballet with Clay Rose and his beloved local alt-country outfit Gasoline Lollipops

Based on songs from across the Gas Pops discography, The Sandman combines and reimagines Rose’s lyrics to tell a story that plays out with the help of Wonderbound dancers and live music from Rose and his band.

When Wonderbound started in 2012, Ammon and Fay prioritized live music for all of their productions, which eventually led to teaming up with Rose and his other band, The Widow’s Bane, on Wicked Bayou in 2019. Then came the following year’s collaboration with Gasoline Lollipops on The Sandman, which begins its second run with Wonderbound — this time at their new, permanent space — on May 3.

“The moment I start hearing Clay’s lyrics, I start seeing [his characters] in the flesh,” Ammon says. “I start to see their world and their lives and who they are … it just drives me into a kind of creation mode of, ‘OK, how do these people know each other? What’s the conflict, and what [are] their motivations?”

Ammon and Rose are also currently working on another ballet together. This time, it’s an original story crafted by Ammon and Rose, set to Wonderbound choreography and music performed by Rose and a whole new group of musicians he’s assembling. Ammon is tight-lipped about the details beyond that, but he says building something with the local musician from the ground floor will offer a chance for both to continue complementing each other’s unique craft while exploring bold new storytelling possibilities. 

“I’m taken aback sometimes about the things that are in his lyrics. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s ballsy,’ but then he’s kind of said the same thing about my choreography. He’s, like, ‘I can’t believe you actually did that on stage,’” Ammon says. “If we’re going to take on a subject, we’re going to dig in and be brutally honest about it. We’re going to dive into some probably pretty heavy territory.” 

ON STAGE: The Sandman: A Newfangled Western. Various times, May 3-14, Wonderbound, 3824 Dahlia St., Denver. Tickets here.

Editor’s note: Reporter Adam Perry occasionally performs as a drummer with Clay Rose, and was a full-time member of the Gasoline Lollipops from 2015-2018.

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