Wonderbound and Flobots Join Forces for Hip-Hop Ballet Divisions

The Flobots and Wonderbound in rehearsal.
The Flobots and Wonderbound in rehearsal.
Wonderbound, which we named Best Innovative Dance Company in the 2017 Best of Denver, has worked with a bevy of artists and stretches the boundaries of what can be done in tandem with a ballet performance. The troupe has collaborated with mentalist Professor Phelyx, Lighthouse Writers Workshop writers and Curious Theatre Company on innovative and sometimes provocative pieces.

Divisions, Wonderbound's latest performance, runs three consecutive weekends and marks the launch of the Denver-based Flobots' tour, supporting the hip-hop act's third album, No Enemies. The band will share the stage with the Wonderbound dancers, performing among them.

Westword spoke with Wonderbound artistic director Garrett Ammon about the production.

Westword: You've worked with a range of musicians. Why the Flobots?

Garrett Ammon:
We knew them through our work with Paper Bird. We did flash-mob dances around Denver set to their music, and a relationship evolved from there. I think we were carrying around the idea of working together for quite some time, but were pretty daunted by it. I was really excited about working with a hip-hop group, because I grew up with my first experiences with movement and music in show choir. Also, learning dance moves in the ’90s meant programming our VCRs to record TV raps, going home and studying those videos, learning the dances off the rap videos and music videos. Jamie [Laurie, the Flobots' Jonny 5] and I are the same age, so we were listening to the same artists at that time. It gives me a chance to reach back to the formations of my dance experience.

What is different about working with the Flobots?

They deal with global issues, and my work is much more personal and about intimate relationships and experiences. Even though their work is very big, I feel that the subject matter they are exploring is more intimate and personal in its perspective. I feel that my work has also expanded outward: This has been part of the evolution of Wonderbound and opening what we do up to the world. The Flobots and Wonderbound are having a lot of the same conversations, just from a different angle.

Your movement is very ballet-based. Do you think that hip-hop is a big part of the movement for this piece?

For Divisions, it is a lot of dancing; it is very, very physical. The physicality has to embrace that driving energy and the fast pace of the lyrics. One thing that I’ve done is familiarize myself again with how the genre of hip-hop movement evolved. It’s more about the rhythms and how they are built across the lyrics. You have to kind of really get in there and know how the lyrics are structured and how the phrasing is structured so that you can grab on to it. A big difference for the dancers is that in classical ballet, the accent for the steps is on the up and out, and any step with hip-hop, it's often down and in.

Is there a plot?

There is a narrative – a couple on a journey. The overall theme, and the reason it is called Divisions, calls upon the big divisions we are seeing in our culture, and also the ones we have inside ourselves. What happens when our collective selves come into conflict with what others think and believe? When what we feel as an individual isn’t what we believe as part of the collective? It can be hard to rectify those two; in fact, sometimes they cannot be rectified. This show is not advocating for any particular position or political or social issue, more about the environment of divisiveness and how we navigate that as humans.

What feelings does this ballet evoke?

We are exploring shame. That gets more nuanced because I think people don’t necessarily realize how when we shame people we are losing cohorts in the struggle for making the world better. You see divisions within groups of people who should be arm in arm in a struggle but can start to fight within those subgroups in the larger whole, and then they weaken their ability to stand together. 

Divisions runs April 13-30 at various locations throughout Denver. Tickets range from $22 to $50; for more information, go to Wonderbound's website.