A Chance to Play, Enhance and Make Magic—'A Gothic Folktale' Returns
When I saw A Gothic Folktale in 2013, all I could think about when the curtain dropped was—I hope they run this one again, and I hope I don’t have to wait five years or more. I think many other Denver audience members felt this way. This piece touches on emotions that we don’t get to experience too often during dance performance—a little bit of fright, confusion, apprehension, mystery—and not in the predictable fairytale way that ‘dark’ classical ballets like Swan Lake explore these feelings.
My wish came true. Wonderbound is treating Denver to yet another round of this magical piece, but don’t expect it to be identical. In true Wonderbound fashion, everything is a chance to play, enhance, and make magic. Performing the same piece doesn’t mean that the company got lazy or ran out of ideas, it’s really just the opposite. There aren’t many dance companies creating multiple new works each year, and even fewer that collaborate with local artists, commissioning entire scores and stretching the limits of what is possible, in cahoots with every funky brain in the Mile High City. Just as the experience of reading your favorite book or watching your favorite movie is different every time, so is the joy of revisiting any body of art. Perhaps you’ve changed since you last saw this piece, I know I certainly have. And Denver’s changed. And the cast has changed. See what you pick up this time that you didn’t three years ago, and really let yourself ‘let go’ with this one. Let yourself wonder…..
I sat down to a Q&A with Wonderbound Artistic Director Garrett Ammon to get the behind the scenes scoop on everything coming at us in this season’s A Gothic Folktale.
Erica Prather: I’m interested in how this piece has changed since the premiere in 2013. The cast is mostly different, but the costumes, music and plot is unchanged. What changes for you personally? In the choreography? What is involved in the process of coming back to a piece?
Garrett Ammon: Anytime we revisit a work there are a lot of layers that are re-examined. With some distance from it, you have to re-learn the work. Even as the creator of it, there is so much of it that had faded into the background for me. Rediscovering why I made certain decisions is a fantastic process to go through. With a new cast member, you have to hand that role to them and let them discover it for themselves, and then you see that character live in a different way. My interest is in making [A Gothic Folktale] work for the group we have, so I’ll make adjustments and changes to suit the current cast.
There’s also a great opportunity to dive into something that didn’t quite feel right the first time. For example, there’s one entire section that I essentially reworked, the choreography is different. I don’t worry about what it was in that instance, I just re-imagine it.
EP: How does it work when you commission music—how do you explain your vision to Jesse Manley? The work is so perfectly matched to the piece, with interesting, haunting instruments. How does that process begin?
GA: In the beginning, everyone working on this performance spent some time getting to know each other, sharing some different ideas. I share images or text to give Jesse some thoughts of where I am heading, but I usually don’t have it mapped out, I kind of give him a pretty broad door to walk through so he can discover things. He did his own writing and own research about touring side shows and discovered some real people that he based some of the music on. He built a body of work and then from there, I heard the music. We have a unique working relationship because he will create new songs and then come up with different ways they can be played, he will break down themes in different ways which allows us to tie characters together. I love that he’s so easy going and open to evolving and changing things for the overall purpose.
EP: What was the inspiration for incorporating a magician?
GA: I think I always kind of wondered what it would be like to add the element of magic into the ballet. I think that it happens subtly in performance anyway, but to actively bring those art forms together was very appealing to me. It’s right in line with looking at our art form differently. So often, art forms get defined in such a strict sense, with a very specific way in how something is supposed to be, and we all start following those rules even though we don’t know who wrote that rule. Opportunities to disrupt that way of thinking are very important. Broadening your perspective of what visual art is….the craft of illusion is an amazing thing that captures the ideas we try to engage with. That’s really what Wonderbound is about; being in awe of the moment you are in. Magic has the ability to do that.