For the first time in more than 10 years, Wonderbound won’t perform “The Nutcracker” for the holidays. Instead, the Denver contemporary dance company will premiere an original production called “Winter” on Dec. 10.
“We thought it was time to create a show that really represents the kind of work that we do,” artistic director Garrett Ammon says. “We also wanted to embrace the idea of looking at the season instead of the holidays.”
“Winter” aims to incorporates all of the senses, including taste and smell, to immerse the audience in the production and the seasonal sensations. Ammon drew from old folklore and poetry for story inspiration and turned to creative Coloradans to collaborate on the concept.
The narrative centers itself around a magpie that steals a woman, whose husband embarks on a journey to find her. Ammon says magpies carry significance in many cultures and that a lone magpie forebodes bad luck.
“We had a lot of conversations about what winter means to us, and once I found the magpie as a symbol, the storyline started falling into place,” Ammon says. “We explore not only the romance of winter but also the dangers and dark side of it.”
From there, the story comes alive with the help of Wonderbound’s collaborators. Jesse Manley composed and will perform live music with his band. Visual artist Kristopher Collins created 3D projection mappings to help transport the show to different settings such as the woods outside the married couple's cabin.
Upon entering the venue, audience members each receive a box of food -- either appetizers during early shows or desserts during later ones -- prepared by chefs from area restaurants Fuel Cafe, Amerigo, Devil’s Food and Sugarmill.
Attendees will also receive a stack of envelopes featuring five original scents concocted with the help of Michelle Roark of Viola Salon. The smells correlate to scenes in the production, and dancers provide cues on stage informing audiences when to sniff.
“Winter” also breaks the fourth wall with physical interactions between the performers and audience members. For example, at one point in the show, dancer Damien Patterson -- who portrays the husband -- recruits people to help him search for his missing wife.
“Every audience will have its own personality, so we’ll be learning how we interact with them even as we open the show,” Ammon says. “I think that’s the exciting part of a project like this is to allow it to evolve and change with time.”
While additional sensory inputs can lead to heightened awareness in the brain, the outcome really depends on the individual immersed in the experience, says Dr. Sruthi Thomas, a medical resident at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience while working with CU's Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center.
“By incorporating all five of the senses, you could amplify your perception of a certain visual element because your brain is much more alert to that sensation,” Thomas says. “But some people could potentially be distracted from the elements of the dance by everything else that’s going on versus others who might feel more in tune.”
Thomas adds that smell can trigger emotional reactions more profoundly because it does not filter through the thalamus in the brain like all other senses.
“Smell being so primitive, as far as the senses go, it really is connected with the emotional center of the brain,” she says.
“Winter” runs through Dec. 18. The show marks the first full production hosted at the dance company’s Denver rehearsal space: Wonderbound’s Studio at Junction Box.