"Madness, Rack, and Honey": Behind Garrett Ammon’s Ballet
Witnessing Garrett Ammon work in the studio is no passive task. He is observant and methodical in his interactions with the dancers, watching hawk-eyed as his steps and phrases slowly connect and grow into a much larger work. Ammon’s original work for Smuin, "Madness, Rack, and Honey," is an ambitious and distinctively quirky piece, rife with gestures and archetypal influences. Smuin previously brought Ammon’s athletic, "Serenade for String,"s to the stage in 2014, and the Company is excited to present his latest inventive work in our first program of the season: Dance Series 01.
Since 2007, Ammon has been making his mark on the dance world with his Denver-based company Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado). He encourages an inclusive and open environment, both theoretically and physically opening the doors of his studio workspace to the local community. While most choreographers might find this openness distracting, Ammon is acutely aware of how the perception of exclusivity can negatively impact the dance world. “People don’t understand how dance is created; they don’t understand the hours that go into it, the rigorous nature of it. Part of that is because we’ve closed it behind all of these spaces that you don’t have access to.”
With Madness, Rack and Honey, Ammon fuses his passion for dance and poetry in a remarkable way. Upon selecting Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra” as accompaniment, Ammon began a painstaking process of converting musical counts to meters of poetry. After mapping out the score, he used an online word generator to create what turned out to be, in his words, an “insanely long poem.” He then used this poem as the foundation for his movement and as inspiration for the overall structure of his piece.
Not only does Ammon welcome onlookers, he embraces their presence as an essential part of his creative process. “Every human, every soul that walks into the space, changes the space a little bit. When somebody new walks into the room, suddenly it causes my brain to see what’s happening in a different way.” Ammon remarks that dance, unlike many other art forms, is contingent upon the presence of other people to be successful. “Dance came into existence as a social art form. You can write a symphony by yourself, you can write a play by yourself, but dance necessitates the presence of other people.”
To date Ammon has choreographed over 60 original works and is also an aspiring writer. A recent stint at a writers’ retreat, which included the study of Mary Ruefle’s collection of lectures entitled Madness, Rack, and Honey (the namesake of his world premiere), marked the beginning of a new journey for him. “The idea of Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Ruefle’s phrase, [described] the act of writing poetry, the act of [creating] art in general: the madness of it, the torture of it, but also the sweetness of it.”
While Ammon admits that this is an entirely new process for him, his excitement is palpable as he talks of this latest creative endeavor, a multidisciplinary fusion of artistic mediums. “I’m very much in the beginning of discovering what [this is]. What I hope is that, over time, I can build an even more methodical process. It’s causing me to make rather unusual choices, choices that I wouldn’t normally make if I was just creating movement without it.”
He likens his new process to the act of writing poetry in that, as with language, “when you start putting words together that don’t normally live together, it inherently becomes more provocative, and pulls out meanings of words that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. Poetry has so many parallels with dance in the way that you’re trying to express ideas” without ever directly conveying them.
As for a fundamental objective or meaning behind his work, he willingly concedes that he sometimes doesn’t know what it all might mean. “Not all work is narrative, and not all work is just bodies moving through space to time.” Ultimately Ammon wants “to give the audience that comfort in knowing that they can be lost in it, and that’s okay. They can be confused and not understand, and that’s okay” as well. Simply enjoy the madness, the sweetness, and the “frustrating” elusiveness of it all.