If you’re unfamiliar with the Wonderbound dance company, there are a few characteristics that define the company: collaboration, creativity, and contemporary choreography that’s rooted in classical ballet. All of those are on full display for their new show, “Aphrodite’s Switchboard,” that was conceived as the third collaboration between choreographer Garrett Ammon and the genre-bending Chimney Choir.
“Chimney Choir and I sat down a little over two years ago to start exploring the possibility of creating a new show together,” said Ammon. “I think one thing that we were interested in was knowing that this show was going to fall in the month of February around Valentine’s Day, and so we thought the subject of love was a good jumping off point.”
As the most well-known Goddess of Love, Aphrodite seemed to be a natural heroine for the story. They continued to explore Greek mythology and noticed another timeless theme that has directly influenced “love”: communication.
“Somewhere along the conversation, we ended up talking about communication and how our world has changed a lot in how we communicate with each other, and the good and bad sides to that,” said Ammon. “Using the Greek mythology to explore themes that have been common throughout history, the idea of Aphrodite being a switchboard operator was a really adventurous way into the subject.”
Despite being invented 50 years prior, the switchboard and the image of its beautiful operator became indelibly linked to the 1930s thanks to the 1937 film, “Telephone Operator,” and women became the faces (and voices) of telephone companies until automated systems gradually replaced the profession. However, for Ammon it was more than just the profession that made the 1930s such a desirable decade for the story’s setting.
“I think the 1930s was a time of significant change in our world,” he said. “There were some visual aesthetics that we really liked from that time period. Art Deco was really becoming the prominent architectural and aesthetic look of the time. It all just kind of naturally fit together.”
Despite the themes and setting being firmly rooted in Greek mythology and the 1930s, neither the music nor the choreography will be heavily influenced by either. The soundtrack is influenced by minimalist composers, found sounds, Italian Westerns, electronic music, and pop music–to name a few influences. The choreography has been created using movement that has a basis in classical ballet, but brings in Ammon’s own vocabulary that draws on modern dance, social dance, Jazz, and all kinds of different dance forms, all amalgamated into the recognizable Wonderbound style.
“Having the switchboard as a jumping off point really gave me a foundation of how I might go from scene to scene,” said Ammon. “But for me, I don’t create any steps before I go into a studio with the dancers. I might have a lot of ideas of themes or a broad understanding of how the arc of the show’s narrative will come out, but it’s really getting into the studio, taking the props that we’ve developed, and exploring possibilities and discovering the characters. It’s a pretty organic process with the dancers–a collaborative exploratory process to discover what it is.”
The music for the show was created in a similar way. After themes were decided on, Chimney Choir left town to start working on the soundtrack.
“We went away and just generated material from scratch,” said Kris Dickey. “We tried to make it as wide-ranging and dynamic as we could, and then we essentially handed it over to Garrett and he put it together.”
“It was definitely deeper than we’ve ever collaborated with each other before,” said David Rynhart. “Also, with handing Garrett a lot of pieces of things that we purposely didn’t bring to a close, to see what would spark him and where he’d want to use it and then going from there, we’d then try to make it into more of a song.”
“It feels like a really exciting conversation between the disciplines of what Garrett’s doing in dance and what we’re doing in music,” said Kevin Larkin. “We wouldn’t have come up with this on our own by any means. This is happening specifically because we’re doing this show. I feel pretty proud of that, of trying to make into a reality.”
The day we visited the studio, the entire Wonderbound family was rehearsing while Chimney Choir played the soundtrack, which will also happen during the live shows. Not only was the choreography being perfected, the music was as well. A few tweaks had to be made here and there. Larkin missed a telephone ring after a lyric or something had to be played sooner and faster. The collaboration was still happening a week before the show, which made witnessing the rehearsal all the more exciting.
The two principal dancers for the show are Amy Giammarrusco and Evan Flood, as Aphrodite and Hermes, respectively. Giammarrusco has enjoyed the collaborative effort that went into developing this 1930s version of the Goddess of Love.
“I think a lot of my movements have suited the character well,” she said. “I’m kind of falling in love or spreading the love throughout the whole show. I have a lot of more sensual dances, and pas de deux, moving slower, and having a lot of human-to-human contact is just kind of second nature to me.”
Her favorite part is the evolution of the show’s message. For Giammarrusco, the way the show handles the issue of love is much more rooted in contemporary mores than those of the 1930s.
“My character–and really all of the characters–doesn’t see boundaries for love as far as race or gender,” she said. “It’s really just love is love; and there’s all different forms and types of love, but in the end, it’s all love.”
For Flood, developing the character of Hermes was an exciting process. As the first time he and Giammarrusco have worked so closely together, it was the perfect opportunity to work off of each other to create dynamic characters.
“Throughout the rehearsals, I was trying to give Hermes some unique characteristics,” said Flood. “I could tell that Hermes was sort of the comic relief, so I knew that I wanted to keep the character light and more uplifting instead of something serious.”
Watching the rehearsals, it was clear that every aspect of the show has been created through a deeply collaborative process. They say great minds think alike, but often the greatest achievements come from the minds of many who think differently. That’s always been one of the most exciting things about Wonderbound, and “Aphrodite’s Switchboard” is sure to wow us all.
February 9 & 10, 7:30 p.m. February 11, 2:00 p.m.
Performing Arts Complex at Pinnacle Charter School, 1001 W. 84th Ave, Denver, Colorado 80260
$22.00-$50.00. Get your tickets by calling 303-292-4700 or go here
February 17, 7:30 p.m. February 18, 2:00 p.m.
Parker Arts, Culture & Events Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave, Parker, Colorado 80138
$22.00-$50.00. Get your tickets by calling 303-805-6800 or go here
February 24, 7:30 p.m.
The Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 E Iliff Ave, Denver, Colorado 80208
$22.00-$50.00. Get your tickets by calling 303-871-6200 or go here