By Erica Prather
Don’t let the promo materials for Wonderbound’s Aphrodite’s Switchboard fool you – this ballet isn’t all sex, shapely legs and predictable heterosexual love. I’ve been watching Wonderbound for a decade now. And, like anything you’ve had a long-term relationship with, patterns are bound to emerge, certain dynamics become predictable. In the case of this Denver-based contemporary dance company, unpredictability has, in a sense, become predictable, normalized.
An audience that steps into a Wonderbound performance is a bit different than say, one that is watching a classical performance, because they have become accustomed to buckling a seatbelt across their chest to go on a journey they aren’t yet familiar with, as opposed to watching Sleeping Beauty or any ballet in the classical repertoire. There’s nothing wrong with those pieces – but they are a safer, familiar choice, albeit one that sometimes unintentionally induces a siesta.
Amy Giammarusco in Garrett Ammon’s . Photo by Amanda Tipton.
When the curtain closed on the opening night of Aphrodite’s Switchboard, I saw something I’ve actually never seen at a ballet – the audience standing before the curtain was closed. Many people had tears streaming down their faces, which was really just the climax of a very vivid, visceral response happening in pockets throughout the auditorium – sighing, a ‘Brava!’ escaping a gentleman’s mouth, a ‘shit!’ escaping another’s.
The raw, vulnerable state that electrified every person watching this performance was the fruit of a perfect storm in collaboration – a clean, art-deco inspired aesthetic, punctuated by unusual projections that ranged from Wizard of Oz-like-8 feet tall images of the band member’s heads, to the illusion of a swimming pool, to trippy lights that I overheard felt like a ‘Pink Floyd show.’
Stephanie Moffett-Hugg in Garrett Ammon’s Aphrodite’s Switchboard. Photo by Amanda Tipton.
Sarah Tallman and Keston Meyer in Garrett Ammon’s Aphrodite’s Switchboard. Photo by Amanda Tipton.
Ammon’s choreography undulated to the music of Chimney Choir, who crafted new works for the show – songs that ranged from joyous, mandolin-accented expressions of young love to dirty, harmonica heavy blues, blended with the familiar sounds of dial tones and voicemails extended, looped and interwoven.
Sarah Tallman and Damien Patterson in Garrett Ammon’s Aphrodite’s Switchboard. Photo by Amanda Tipton
Sonically, Chimney Choir accomplished something of a snake-charmer effect, leading the audience across the emotionally charged finish line. It’s really one of those collaborations you step back from and realize that together, all of the artists working on this project created a being in its own right.
The ‘thing that came to be,’ the moment that folks in the audience were experiencing, was Vulnerability. And yes, Vulnerability the proper noun, an entity, a state, a place. Wonderbound takes risks with their performances. And one of the risks with this piece is that it is deeply nuanced, a heavy plot based on Greek mythos, a storyline that, if you didn’t read thoroughly in the program, you may not fully understand. And that’s the fascinating thing, really – because even if the audience didn’t know whether they were watching Adonis or Hermes or Pygmalion or Aphrodite, it did not matter.
We have all been in love with objects, we have all experienced deep, confronting loss, we have had to bear witness to death, and age, and suffer through the thrills of desire, we have been terrified for our own safety as women moving through the world. The emotional arc of the story was so tangible through movement and music that there needed be no words, no understanding of the plot, to connect, to laugh, to dance, to cry.
Nayomi Van Brunt and Ben Youngstone in Garrett Ammon’s Aphrodite’s Switchboard. Photo by Amanda Tipton.
As with many of Wonderbound’s pieces, the audience is invited to contemplate, to take risks, to wind their own personal narrative, both bright and dark, into the light shadow of Aphrodite’s Switchboard. But if love isn’t worth risking it all, what is?
Aphrodite’s Switchboard continues its run on February 17, 18 and 24, at two Denver-area venues.
February 17, 7:30 p.m. @ The PACE Center
February 17, 2:00 p.m. @ the PACE Center
February 24, 7:30 p.m. @ The Newman Center
It was presented at the Performing Arts Complex at Pinnacle Charter School on February 9-11.