Sarah Tallman has been dancing with Wonderbound, the Denver-based contemporary ballet company, since 2004. She's also doubled as a choreographer, creating work both for Wonderbound and the Oklahoma City Ballet; in 2015, she was selected for the National Choreographers Initiative. Tallman is premiering a thirty-minute ballet, Peering Through Cracks and Knotholes, that will debut alongside Wonderbound Artistic Director Garrett Ammon’s Reveries, also a premiere, at the ninth annual JAAMM Festival (Jewish Arts, Authors, Movies and Music) at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center. In advance of that show on November 10, we spoke with Tallman about her artistic process, finding creative inspiration outside the dance studio, and the magic of feeling comfortable in your skin with age.
Westword: Tell me about the choreographic process. Are you moved by music first? Do you have ideas of some movements you want to try out regardless of the score?
Sarah Tallman: The music came first. There were a slew of composers we could choose from for the JAAMM festival, and I chose one that sounded more theatrical. This era of music tends to lead towards a lot of dissonance and discord, which is great, and I was looking to find something that was less in that vein. I chose Kurt Weill’s work, one of his first compositions. He wrote the score when he was just eighteen.
How would you describe traditional Jewish music and what it’s like to move to that type of score?
Thematically, there’s a lot of beauty in it, a lot of themes that shift. During that particular time atonality was a big thing, and Weill was trying to push against that and bring some romantic moments into it. The piece doesn’t resolve, it is always shifting. The movements in Peering Through Cracks and Knotholes have a feeling of living in an alternate reality. There is mischief in this ballet, and sadness too.
Where do you draw creativity from outside of the studio in order to create a ballet?
I spend time outside -– it can just be as simple as standing barefoot in my backyard. I read a lot of books. I was very inspired by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, one of my recent reads. I move both my brain and my body in different ways, even if it’s just for ten minutes — that can feel very spacious. I love looking at fashion magazines and seeing different styles. Anything can stimulate me to see symbolism and metaphors in life; they are everywhere if you pay attention. I also have two dogs and two cats –- watching them, how they move, can be inspiring as well.
How do you balance the rigorous schedule of learning choreography for Garret Ammon and dancing full time while creating works of your own?
On some level it’s normal for me, because since I’ve been choreographing for Wonderbound, I’ve done both at the same time. They are two different brains: One is into your own physicality and efficiency of movement, and the other side of your brain calibrates that by creating for the other dancers. It almost becomes an out-of-body experience. There’s a rigor to it that's very exciting. I’m obviously influenced by Garrett. There is a collective consciousness that transcends since we are all working in the same room. I feel very fortunate and inspired to be part of someone else’s vision, while also digging inside my own mind to create.
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You’ve been dancing with Wonderbound longer than any other dancer in the company, before it was even called Wonderbound [it was formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado]. How does that feel? You’ve seen dancers come and go, you’ve evolved into a choreographer. It’s been quite a bit of change.
Wonderbound changes the way people think. It really is its own entity outside of the studio space, or the ballets we craft, or the dancers. The thing that we do as a company that I love so much that I desire to take into my choreography is the connection to the human spirit. The energy in the world is palpable, and if we can harness it for good and make changes in people’s lives, even if it’s just one person, then we will have done our job.
As for me personally, I’m nearly forty and I feel the strongest connection I ever have to my heart, my body, to the people in the room, the people in my neighborhood. In my view, the person and the artist are not separate. We all desire in our lives an animation between people – a spark, a connection. I want to create that for the audience to experience in my work on the stage.
Catch Wonderbound at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10, at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center. Tickets range from $30 to $36 and can be purchased exclusively on the JAAMM website.