Live entertainment is back in some capacity, but what does it look like in 2021? And are events actually safe during the COVID-19 era and still worth attending? To find out, we went to the dance troupe Wonderbound's socially distanced Winterland: A Discotheque Cabaret.
Winterland was originally set to premiere in December 2020, but the show was pushed to late January after COVID-19 restrictions went to Level Red in November; with Level Orange now in effect, the state has allowed the show to open.
Wonderbound has many precautions in place to make Winterland a safer experience. Because of the dance company's small size — twelve dancers and seven other staff members — it has been able to rehearse throughout the pandemic, with dancers and staff maintaining a strict stay-at-home order when they are not collaborating.
A combination of daily temperature tests, regular COVID tests and self-quarantining has allowed the dancers to perform without masks and rehearse together over the past few months. Winterland is designed with social distancing in mind: The audience is at least 25 feet from the stage, and viewers sit at individual tables rather than traditional theater seating.
Before even arriving at Wonderbound's new home at 3824 Dahlia Street, attendees receive a list of COVID safety guidelines to follow. The building's doors stay locked until thirty minutes before the event to curb loitering, and any latecomers are turned away.
In place of physical tickets, patrons check in by name and are assigned to a numbered table. While folks must remain seated during the entirety of the show, they can take advantage of a complimentary bar serving beer, wine and water before the show begins. After the production, audience members are dismissed one table at a time to avoid crowding by the exits.
Choreographed by Wonderbound director Garrett Ammon and ballet master and associate choreographer Sarah Tallman, Winterland promises to be "The antidote to the cold weather and COVID blues," something we all desperately need. The show lives up to that promise.
Wonderbound's large, open warehouse left plenty of room — at least six feet — between individual tables. Each table has a maximum of six people, and only people from the same party are allowed to sit together. With a maximum of 25 audience members, it's easy to keep a distance from everyone else at the show.
Masks are required except when eating or drinking while seated at your designated table. Since beverages are served and each person receives an individual bag of snacks to munch on during the show, it is basically impossible to have everyone wearing masks at all times, though you can certainly keep your own mask on the whole time if you prefer — which some audience members do.
Wonderbound is known for dance performances accompanied by live bands, but because of capacity limitations, Winterland lacks this signature. It's a bummer for Wonderbound fans who enjoy the unique magic that comes from live musicians and dancers working in tandem, but it also allows Tallman and Ammon to choreograph to some beloved classics like "Baby It's Cold Outside" and Judy Garland's "Get Happy."
The show itself is pure escapist fun, filled with enthralling burlesque-inspired numbers that induce both giggles and occasional shock. Wonderbound's male dancers prancing around in white bloomers and berets to Dean Martin's "A Marshmallow World" are equal parts naughty, delicious and staggeringly impressive. Winterland's campy sexiness is a treat, and certainly lifts the audience's mood.
If dancer Isaac Huerta gleefully spinning around the stage in what looks like a Chippendales costume doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will. And the ladies of Wonderbound hold their own. Karina Cardella's vampy solo to Eartha Kitt's "I Want to Be Evil," choreographed by Tallman, counterbalances the sweetness of some of Winterland's other numbers.
With a fifty-minute run time, Winterland may provide only a brief respite from an increasingly turbulent world, but it proves there is a future — and present — for live entertainment in Denver. And the demand for live shows is as high as ever, since all 24 performances sold out within a few weeks.
Tickets are already on sale for the company's next production, The Troublemakers. Premiering Thursday, February 25, The Troublemakers is inspired by the story of Cinderella and film noir. Showings will follow all the same COVID-19 precautions as Winterland, including a pre-recorded soundtrack instead of live music.
No live entertainment is going to be the same as it was before COVID-19, at least not for some time, but even with the adaptations, these shows are so much better than nothing. And there's no question: Attending socially distanced, responsibly produced performances is worth it.
For tickets to The Troublemakers, which runs from February 25 through March 14, at 3824 Dahlia Street, go to Wonderbound's website. They are $60 each, and Wonderbound can only accommodate parties of two to six people.
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