Choreographer Patrick Mueller thought it was time for his Control Group Productions dance theater to pare things down and appeal to a broader base. But that’s just a piece of what Neverhome, an immersive, site-specific performance/walking tour inspired by converging themes of gentrification, migration and finding your way, is all about. Carrying your life on your back, after all, means cutting back. “In terms of the work, there’s less sprawl than usual for us," says Mueller. "While Neverhome is more than just a single vignette, it’s also more like a poem than it is a sprawling James Joyce novel.”
Control Group’s done the sprawl before, in lusher, more baroque incarnations, but like many of us in metro Denver, he’s seeing a growing diaspora of artists and the poor, just as refugees are pouring from war zones on the international level. Neverhome is about those tenuous situations, in all of their first- and third-world iterations. The work takes audiences on what might be the most important walk of their lives, as each person tagging along experiences what it feels like to become a rolling stone.
“For the walking tour, we want you to feel like you’re in a familiar space that you’ve maybe walked through or biked through on a regular basis,” Mueller explains. “It’s just two movement artists, the audience and a narrator, a simpler idea, and the performers’ actions are more about a dissonance between how you usually experience spaces and how they’re supposed to be experienced: It’s partly about the uncomfortable fit between skin and concrete.”
Mueller and company have already test-run Neverhome in a few one-time settings, but for the next three weekends, they’ll be splitting time between two nights of performances embarking from the Broomfield Depot Museum, and five more nights at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street. One tour is a suburban, rural journey, while the other traverses the heart of the city, both with similar yet very different outcomes. “The basic concept of the work is site-specific and site-malleable,” Mueller says. “They both feel like pretty reasonable settings, but each space makes the work sing very differently.” Mueller says some people are already opting to buy tickets for both versions.
Through narration, music, movement and a few other surprises, Neverhome forces its audience to throw off the safety of permanence for something more fragile. “There’s some speculation about the wayfarer’s act of reclaiming a space as home for a minute,” notes Mueller. “A lot comes out though rigorous acts resulting in exhaustion. Without giving too much away, we have some heavy burdens that we carry through a lot of the route. In Denver, we spend part of the time working our way upstream in Cherry Creek, and in certain moments we actually drop anchor, like a layer of exhaustion, feeling like we can’t go any further for a moment.
“There’s always a little bit of a sense of the impromptu in laying claim to a space,” he continues. It’s like finding “a place to crash out halfway up a trail with a fifty-pound backpack. You find a log to sit on, and you sit on
it feeling like this is where I belong and this place belongs to me — for a second."
For the audience, many of society’s immediate troubles — the shards of xenophobia cutting down the homeless and displaced, crosscut by incoming higher-income migrations arriving to take over — come crashing down around the traveling performance. “In a way,” Mueller says, “we’re mimicking refugees, yet we’re not trying to claim another person’s experience. We’re looking for commonalities in the act of migration. One of three greatest powers of live performed art is the ability to conjure empathy. The easiest way to do that is to say, ‘How is this other person’s experience reflected in your own life? What’s it like to be leaving, trying to land in a new place, carrying your life on your back?’”
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Mueller is especially thrilled about partnering with MCA Denver, a place known for finding novel ways to engage new audiences, for the last leg of Neverhome performances. In particular, he sees Neverhome locked in step with artist Derrick Velasquez’s site-specific installations in Obstructed View at the MCA, which come down at the end of August.
“His work is about gentrification and the building boom, and how impermanent these stone edifices are,” Mueller explains. “Our work is in the same vein. Part of our research was looking at the human form and body in action in architecture. It was about looking at how quickly the city is changing around people, and how the shifting Denver landscape makes people feel like refugees in a place where they've grown up.”
Journey to Neverhome with Control Group on Friday, August 18, or Saturday, August 19, at the Broomfield Depot Museum, 2201 West Tenth Avenue in Broomfield. Or opt for an urban journey leaving from MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, on August 24 and 25, or September 1 through 3. Tours set off from both locations at 5:30, 6:15 and 7:30 p.m., and admission is $8 to $12 in Broomfield and $10 to $15 in Denver. The tours are all-ages-friendly and ADA-compliant. Purchase tickets to either spot at Brown Paper Tickets, and learn more online at Control Group's website.