Well before sunrise on November 8, Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, the husband-and-wife duo who head up Wonderbound, a contemporary dance company, awoke to alerts on their phones that the security cameras were not working at their studio at East 40th Avenue and York Street. When they arrived at the 235,000-square-foot former AT&T call center, all the lights were off, which was unusual.
They noticed signs of a break-in, so they called 911; Denver police soon arrived and cleared the building. Fay and Ammon discovered that the electrical rooms, which had been filled with copper wiring, had been destroyed. Rooms were trashed. Smoke filled the air. The vandals had fled.
"It was like a bomb had gone off," says Fay. "It looked like a war zone."
They spoke with the building's owners, philanthropists Brooke and Tom Gordon, who had donated the space to the company for the past two years, ever since the troupe moved from its former Five Points studio. After looking the damage over, they all decided staying that in the building would be untenable. The damage was too severe.
With its live performance of Winterland: A Discoteque Cabaret scheduled to start on December 2, the company called up realtor Mike Viehmann. With him, they toured several spaces and eventually were drawn to the former art studio of Ed Dwight, at 3824 Dahlia Street. Dwight was the first African American in the astronaut program and also a major Denver sculptor who'd worked out of the space since the late ’80s; he was recently honored by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation for his contributions to the arts in Denver. Wonderbound struck a deal with the building's owners, Adam Riddle and Zvi Rudawsky, and soon after, began moving in.
"It’s wonderful," Fay says of the building. "It’s an amazing space. It’s got Ed Dwight’s soul in it. It’s got art breathing in the building."
On a ramped-up timeline, Fay and Ammon hired movers to lug their studio floors and production equipment into the new space, an electrician to rewire it, and a technician to install rigging for performances. Unlike at Wonderbound's previous space, however, the company now has to pay rent.
"All of this put together over the course of the next many months is going to round up to $150,000 to $160,000 that we were not anticipating in expenses," says Fay.
Even with the challenge of a new space, though, the company was nearly ready for its December 2 opening. But then Denver came under the new Level Red COVID-19 restrictions, canceling all indoor events until late December.
"It’s really been such a major scramble to figure out where home is going to be," says Fay. "We are still working, and we were going to be opening a show next week, until the new mandates that all indoor events are not allowed because of COVID. We postponed to January. ... It’s been a lot of trying to figure it out."
Even before the vandalism, Wonderbound was struggling.
"I’m sorry...but COVID was really enough," says Fay. "Our world as we know it is completely upside and tilted sideways on its axis. Just navigating all of that was a lot to deal with — then to have this happen...yeah, it was devastating."
For the past eight months, Wonderbound's in-person programming has been largely scrapped. Its spring production was cut short. To stay afloat and relevant, the company quickly pivoted to delivering online content, from dance lessons to innovative short films, amassing 129 videos that audiences can watch online for free.
Unlike many arts nonprofits, Wonderbound has had neither furloughs nor layoffs. With a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which has since been converted into a grant, the organization has been able to keep its twelve dancers and small staff working.
They have all been living under strict stay-at-home conditions and only allowed to go out for essential services, so that they could keep dancing through the pandemic.
"They keep their outside contact to an extreme minimum," says Fay. "That’s what’s allowed all of us to not have any cases of COVID so far. We miss having a lot of people in the audience, and we used to have open rehearsals. We haven’t done that, and we won’t do that until we know that there is a vaccine and everybody’s safe."
After the vandalism, the organization sent a letter to donors explaining the situation and asking for support, and the Wonderbound community has stepped up in droves.
"We have had so much support come in over the past few days, from donors who haven’t donated in a while to people who have been in our universe over the years," says Fay, noting that even people who have been out of work for eight months have donated $25. "This outpouring of support after this announcement has been utterly humbling. It tells me that we’re doing the right thing. That’s what it tells me. We have a great family. Everybody who gives to this organization is part of the family. They know we feel that way, and we know they feel that way."
Despite the influx of contributions, though, the company still needs tens of thousands to continue its work. To donate, go to the Wonderbound website.
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