"I'm really interested in finding the ways that past and present can naturally collide," says Ballet Nouveau Colorado choreographer Garrett Ammon of his new production, Carry On. "And this relationship with Paper Bird has worked so well because their music is incredibly respectful and reverent of the past without being tied down by it. Which is what we do with ballet. Our dancers are classically trained, but we only use that as a base for further exploration."
Carry On debuted in 2011 and earned raves; this year's version of Carry On (this Friday, September 7 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House) promises a new evolution of music, dance and a special guest cellist.
See also: -Paper Bird's Paul DeHaven: "The ballet changed everything. There's nothing we can't do." -Carry On is a delightful collaboration between Paper Bird and BNC -Best Collaboration - 2012: Paper Bird and Ballet Nouveau Colorado
"Ballet Nouveau has never played the Ellie Caulkins theater before," continues Ammon. "So it was a big opportunity for us to perform on a historic stage. Which matches the feeling and aesthetic of the show: bringing together past and present."
A staple on the Denver music scene, Paper Bird went through a significant mutation during preparations for the 2011 performance of Carry On, losing trombonist Tyler Archuletta and gaining drummer Mark Anderson (brother of Sarah). All of this change culminated in the Carry On album, a creative process that was helping the band "realize our potential," Paper Bird songwriter Paul DeHaven told us last March. "We're seeing that there's nothing we can't do."
When the two groups first began work on the Carry On project, they both took a largely hands-off approach to the other half. "When we first started writing the music, Garrett and Dawn [Fay, co-director at BNC] didn't really give us any instructions," says Paper Bird's Mark Anderson. "We just started writing songs and themes started to develop out of the music. So Garrett and Dawn would come to practices and take notes, and then tell us what they were hearing."
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"When we first started this, we barely knew each other. For lack of a better analogy, it was like new love," says Ammon. "We were making these really fast connections, and everything was incredibly exciting. And now it's in a different place -- we've gotten past the needing-to-be-polite phase, and can get down to it. And that's changed the way we work."
This process of tingly-new-love-inspiration gradually morphing into comfortably-familiar-understanding is mirrored in the fictional characters portrayed in the piece. "There are these two characters in the ballet, and they're pulling apart and coming together as lovers," says Anderson. "But the story is kind of ambiguous. It's a really intense, emotional production."
Not wanting to merely revamp last year's production, Paper Bird has composed a new song for 2012's Carry On, which Ammon says had a ripple effect that ultimately changed the whole ballet: "The new song hits on themes of a relationship that has existed for a while, focusing more on the lead couple. The moment I heard it, I said, 'This is exactly what we need.' It comes in about the middle of the second act and gives the arc of the show a new depth that we all felt it was wanting."
That switch isn't the only reason that those who saw Carry On last year will enjoy a repeat viewing. There's also the addition of the mournfully magnetic Ian Cooke, who'll add a cellist's edge to what had been a trombone's role. "All of Tyler's trombone parts were these perfectly crafted notes that fit perfectly into a cello," says Cook. "Both instruments are base clef, so they have the same range. And they both have the ability to slide notes around."
"When we first asked him to play, we were wondering how it would work tonally, having him play the trombone lines," says Anderson. "But the reason people love cello so much is that tonally it's so close to the human voice. And so it blends unbelievably well with the girl's singing. It brings this lower tone that is similar to a male vocal. The guys sing at different points in the ballet, but we don't blend with the girl's singing as well as the cello does."
Carry On's return to the stage will come as the closing performance for the Western Arts Alliance Annual Conference, a four-day event that brings together artists and agents from across the western half of the country. Paper Bird and BNC plan to bring Carry On back to Denver again this coming February, with a potential tour coming the following summer.
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Ballet Nouveau Colorado and Paper Bird's Carry On begins at 8 p.m. Friday, September 7 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.bncdance.com