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Penny's Dreadful Returns to Wonderbound's Stage to Open the 2022 Season

Wonderbound artists in Garrett Ammon's Penny's Dreadful.
Wonderbound artists in Garrett Ammon's Penny's Dreadful. Photo by Amanda Tipton
Wonderbound, the ballet-driven contemporary dance company that's been operating in Denver since 2007, premiered its vampire-themed production, Penny's Dreadful, last season.

Keeping its performers employed and dancing throughout the pandemic was a priority for Wonderbound. "It turned out to be really important not only for our audience, but for us, to find our way through that," notes artistic director and company co-founder Garrett Ammon. Between video work and socially distanced live performances, Wonderbound was one of only a handful of dance companies in the U.S. that continued performing live in 2020 and 2021.

Because the first performances of Penny's Dreadful were limited to such a small number of attendees, not many people have gotten to experience the story of Penny, a vampire wending her way through Paris to a soundtrack of ’80s-driven music.

So Wonderbound brought the production back for Halloween this year to kick off the company's new season in ghoulish spirit. It opens Thursday, October 20, and runs through October 30.

Ammon explains that the plot came from the title itself. "I knew I wanted to do something themed to the Halloween season," he says, "and when we were brainstorming names, we started thinking about penny dreadfuls" — the cheap, shocking serialized stories that were typically sold in Victorian England for just a penny.

Playing around with the phrase gave Ammon the title Penny's Dreadful, which immediately created a character for him to explore. "I dove into research around these stories and started asking myself, 'Who is Penny? Where does she live? What does she do?'"

Vampires were a popular theme in the original penny dreadfuls; Varney the Vampire was one of the best-selling penny dreadful serializations, and allegedly established some well-known vampire tropes, such as elongated, sharp fangs.

Ammon had planned a trip to Paris with Wonderbound co-founder Dawn Fay in 2020, and although it was canceled because of the pandemic, he says that's why he set Penny's Dreadful in the City of Love. And to nail down the music, he turned to Gasoline Lollipops frontman and frequent Wonderbound collaborator Clay Rose.

"He has almost an encyclopedic mind for music," Ammon says of Rose, "so the moment I told him what the general narrative was and what scenes I was imagining, he started pulling songs forward, and we would listen to them. A lot of the music selections grew out of those conversations with him, and that was how we started narrowing in on the ’80s, which we then decided to embrace for the entire aesthetic of the show."

Fay, who spearheaded the costuming, "also knows ’80s music backward and forward," according to Ammon, "and she enjoyed digging into a slightly contemporary look on ’80s fashion." Ammon designed the set pieces, which he says are made up of walls on wheels that can be spun and turned to showcase different details and sides of the set, fueling the narrative of the show.

"The set pieces almost end up being characters in themselves on some level," he explains, "by how the dancers do a great deal of the manipulation of them, along with the crew members."
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Wonderbound artists in Garrett Ammon's Penny's Dreadful.
Photo by Amanda Tipton
"I'm really thrilled to be able to bring Penny's Dreadful back again and share it with larger audiences," he adds. "It's a good time; it pulls at your heartstrings while at the same time it has all the fun of a raucous vampire story. It's got its share of kitsch — we definitely embraced that!"

Ten of the sixteen shows are sold out, and Ammon notes that anyone interested in securing a guaranteed spot to a Wonderbound show in the future should consider becoming a subscriber to the dance company. Upcoming Wonderbound shows for the rest of the season include the return of its collaboration with Gasoline Lollipops, The Sandman, as well as Brrr!esque and Awakening Beauty.

"The Sandman is a really special work that is epic in scale, and we're thrilled to be bringing the Gasoline Lollipops back on stage with us," Ammon says. "This will be our first live music production since the pandemic began, and I'm really excited to bring that element of our shows back into the world."

Wonderbound's December show, Brrr!esque, is a play on all things cold, including (sometimes) political relations. "It's a cabaret-style performance with lots of short pieces," Ammon explains. "We ended up embracing a little bit of a Cold War-era approach to it, particularly because of the nature of where we are in the world right now, so there are some ideas around coldness in that respect of reality."

And Awakening Beauty, the season closer, is a spinoff of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale, set to the classical score from the Tchaikovsky ballet. "I love digging into those traditional, classical ballet works and then reimagining them, and it will definitely be a contemporary bent on the narrative that leaves a lot of room for interpretation," Ammon concludes.

Penny's Dreadful, Wonderbound Studios, 3865 Grape Street, Unit 2, Thursday, October 20, through October 30. Learn more about Wonderbound performances, become a subscriber or get tickets at wonderbound.com.
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Amber Taufen has been writing about people, places and things in Denver since 2005. She works as an editor, writer, and production and process guru out of her home office in the foothills.
Contact: Amber Taufen

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