Arvada Center Blog

Denver dance scene pivots and turns: 15 years with Wonderbound’s Sarah Tallman

By Leslie Simon

 

As Denver grows, so grows its dance scene. For 15 years, esteemed Colorado dancer Sarah Tallman has entertained fans with her fierce ballet performances with award-winning local dance company Wonderbound. 2019 marks her final year performing as a full-time dancer, but audiences need not be worried- she will still be working behind-the-scenes creating new works and guiding future generations of Colorado dancers through her unique and powerful choreography. We spoke to Sarah about her 15-year journey with Wonderbound, having transcendent experiences while performing, and what she sees for the future of our local dance scene. Join us here at the Arvada Center on June 14-15 for Wonderbound’s production of Boomtown and see Sarah dance in her final two performances.

Sarah Tallman and Ben Youngstone, photos by Amanda Tipton

Q: What has working with Wonderbound over the course of 15 years taught you about yourself?

A: Oh my goodness… I love this question. Over the last 15 years, I have had the opportunity to appear in over 30 Garrett Ammon ballets, which means there has been an enormous opportunity to explore different characters and emotional arcs that humans experience in the course of a day or even a lifetime. Through that exploration, I have observed myself navigating both the simple and the complex emotions that we all go through. They are all reminders that we are alive!

Each of these roles encouraged me to look within and explore myself. As I journeyed through creating the most authentic expressions of each of these characters and roles, it’s been an opportunity to explore the most authentic expression of who I am and how I interact in the world. The more I deepened into the nuances of who I am or who I think I am as an individual, the deeper I have been able to move through the art form. I have learned a lot about love and what it feels like to express that love. I’ve learned to be rigorous and have fun while doing it!

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Q: What’s your most memorable moment in working with Wonderbound?

A: Wow. There are so many moments that I have cherished; it’s difficult to distill them into one! I absolutely adore performing and have had transcendent experiences on stage where I felt really locked in with the moment. In those instances, the technique and the emotions simultaneously clicked, and I became a conduit of the work rather than a person executing moves. Those moments feel almost like out-of-body experiences, which is funny because it’s through the body that they have taken form. Those experiences make way for a connection and a deepening of our own humanity. My hope is for at least one person to feel something move within them or to ask a deeper question of themselves. I have seen and experienced these moments with my co-workers as well. It’s quite remarkable.

I also value the relationships we create with our many community education programs. Very recently, I observed a 3rd grader completely change his physiological capacity within a matter of seconds after being exposed to dance. Dance is for everybody, and to observe its resonance with the community as an audience member or participant makes for memorable moments.

 

 

Q: What will you miss the most about dancing full-time?

A: I will miss working in the studio with Garrett in the creation of a new solo, and the time with Dawn as a coach. It’s been an unexpected gift to spend the majority of my career originating new roles in brand new ballets that re-awaken the art form. These types of exchanges come along once in a lifetime. I appreciate each one of them and hold them dear to my heart.

The nature of these experiences have allowed me to sink my teeth into the work and go deeper. That’s the secret, when you find work you love, keep going. I can compare it to seeing the ocean for the first time. The ocean is beautiful from the shoreline, but when you jump in and see what’s beneath, there is suddenly an entire world beyond what was witnessed at first glance.

The rigorousness of this type of process has inspired me to create these types of relationships with future artists as I continue my journey as a choreographer. I will miss the everyday vigorous nature of dancing full-time and the connections that are created with audiences and co-artists. I will miss performing, and at the same time, I look forward to discovering new realities through working on the other side of the room as an artistic team member at Wonderbound.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Q: There is an important symbiotic relationship between your writing and your choreography. Can you walk us through your process in creating a new work?

A: Absolutely! Each time I create a new work, I know a little more about what might happen throughout the process, but no two processes are alike. Firstly, I spend a lot of time with the music before I’ve attempted to make even one step. The music generally will cultivate some sort of feeling within me that will then create images in my brain and off I go. My next step is to sit down with paper and pen and just start to free-write. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. As I step into the studio for the first time, I have an outline of the beginning, middle and end of the work. That being said, it’s just as important to not get attached to the “plan” on paper in order to give space to what comes forward once the steps are created.

I’ll often go back to the writing throughout the process. The words help me to envision and create textures, nuances and concepts as the ballet begins to unfold. The next steps are sort of rinse and repeat. At the end of the day, I take what I have learned in the studio and start to form pieces of a puzzle until it’s complete. I lean into the dancers’ artistic voices and interpretations to help further the process and together we begin to make connections.

 

Q: How does your yoga practice affect your dance practice?

A: I first became a student of yoga at a summer program years ago. I initially fought the training, but then realized it allowed me to experience and understand technique in a different way. Essentially, I used it as a way of cross training. I soon discovered it also provided time to listen to my body and sense my environment differently. Yoga has helped to create a balance internally and externally which prepares me for whatever a rehearsal day or performance might bring.

 

Q: What changes have you seen in the Denver dance scene over the past 15 years?

A: Denver has changed so much over the last 15 years. It’s really become a city that values art and dance in particular. The level of awareness and our community’s artistic palate has become more diverse. There is no formula to what our audiences desire to experience, other than that they know it will always transcend and surprise. Art has been and will continue to be the heartbeat and grounding of a community. The more we push the envelope, the more we clearly carve a place for dance to exist. It’s impossible not to see art at the forefront of this city’s development. Simply driving down the street, one can’t help but notice the immersive quality of art. It truly is everywhere. I believe Wonderbound has been at the forefront of changing what we can do with our art form. Wonderbound’s collaborative vision has created a palpable energy, making it a stalwart for dance in Denver.

Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

Q: What changes do you hope to see in the next 15 years?

A: My hope for the next 15 years is that we continue to push the boundaries of what is being created. Curiosity, exploration, wonder. These are all important attributes that will carry Denver forward. It’s important to respect what has been and then give way to future moments as they unfold. Denver has a very real opportunity to become a destination city for art as much as it is for its environmental attractions. We can evolve a city that people come to in order to see world class dance.

A Conversation with Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical’s Gary Holmes

By Leslie Simon

 

Travel back to the time of the cultural hotbed that was the Harlem Renaissance – the music was swinging, bands were big, and the jazz scene continued to rise in popularity and influence. A funny and heartfelt look at love, Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical rediscovers the music of prolific songwriter J.C. Johnson in a story about love, set in Harlem when the culture defined cool and the scene was hot. We spoke to Gary Holmes, Co-Bookwriter of Trav’lin, about his inspirations, J.C.’s music, and the journey this musical has taken since the beginning of its creation.

Q: The Arvada Center is excited to produce the regional premiere of Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical. Why do you think this story set in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance is so appealing and resonates with audiences outside of Harlem?

A: TRAV’LIN is a story about LOVE.  That is what J.C. Johnson wrote mostly about and was the main factor in my determining what tales TRAV’LIN would tell.  The show delves humorously into the follies of love and then digs deep into the hurt that love can be. And those foibles and hurts go beyond a time and a place. The three couples of TRAV’LIN represent three different stages and aspects of love, with all of them are trying to figure what it’s all about! Add to that the energy and raw feeling of the music and era underlying it all and….

Q: It is almost one hundred years since the setting of Trav’lin took place. What is it about the songs of J.C. Johnson that make them so timeless, and why do they still resonate with audiences so strongly?

A: J.C. wrote very simply and directly. His lyrics go right to the core of whatever emotion the song required. And if he was just composing the music, as he often did, he had the ability to exactly match the tone of the lyrics, whether it be a big band, jazz or blues beat. He often said he learned his craft on the streets. I believe that’s where his got his ability to hone in on what the tune or lyric was about, and go right there. No flowery words or heavily intricate tunes. And he really knew how to write a tune!

Q: How has the musical grown and evolved since its debut at the New York Musical Festival?

A: I started developing the show while I was at the Dramatic Writing Department at Tisch. The basic structure, plot and characters in the show were pretty much set back then and are essentially the same to this day.

The New York Musical Festival experience was great. NOTHING helps you figure out what needs to be done with a show more than putting it up in front of an audience not made up of friends and relatives, and having it done with excellent actors and crew. This describes the presentation at the New York Musical Theater Festival, which was extremely well received. And while the basic structure, character and plots have stayed constant since the show was first conceived, that and succeeding productions have shown and allowed us to refine and deepen the show to balance out the lighter and more serious parts. We even changed some of the characters’ intentions and foibles.

We have been blessed to see several sets of excellent actors do full productions of the show – and each production and each actor has brought new revelations. Some were like “How did we NOT see that flaw in the writing before” to “Wow, that actor really opened up other possibilities. Let’s think about that and expand on it!” And we know that the wonderful actors at Arvada (under Rod’s direction) will teach us even more!

Q: What was the most important lesson you learned from your mentor, J.C. Johnson?

A: OH, this is easy! Respect your fellow human being and don’t be too quick to judge. Also, he enjoyed the little things in life, he noticed the little things in life – and he respected them, which is what made him such a good creator and person.  One interviewer of J.C. wrote about him: “He was a gentle flower of a man.” And he was.

J.C. Johnson

Q: What do you hope Arvada Center patrons take away from the musical?

A: I certainly hope they are entertained and enjoy the songs and characters’ roller coaster ride, but I also hope they are touched by J.C.’s music and his message about love. And while TRAV’LIN is anything but a history lesson, I hope the music and stories encourage folks to be open to discovering more about J.C. and the amazing place Harlem was (and is) and that era and the everyday folks who lived it.

Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical closes this Sunday, April 28.

The Importance of Female Playwrights

An Interview with Jessica Austgen, playwright of Sin Street Social Club

by Leslie Simon

When English Restoration writer Aphra Behn wrote The Rover in 1677, she broke cultural barriers and became a role model for women authors everywhere. Reputedly the first Englishwoman to make her living writing, Behn broke barriers that subversive female playwrights continue to break down today. The Arvada Center is proud to present the World Premiere of Sin Street Social Club, a play based off The Rover that we commissioned Colorado playwright Jessica Austgen to write.  We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jessica Austgen about writing Sin Street Social Club and the importance of female playwrights.

Q: Why did you choose to adapt The Rover, and what differences will we see in Sin Street Social Club?

A: The Rover is widely considered to be the first play written by a professional female playwright and is an important part of theater history but…it hasn’t really aged well. The cast size is humongous (twenty-one named characters!), some of the language is pretty antiquated and—most notably—it features one of Restoration Comedy’s most problematic tropes: comic sexual assault. Sin Street Social Club cuts the cast size to nine, streamlines the plot and moves the action away from 17th century Naples and lands in the tawdry Storyville District of 1917 New Orleans. The plot does still involve the aforementioned moments of sexual harassment and assault but reframes them and, hopefully, puts more power in the hands of the female characters.

Q: Have you learned anything valuable from Aphra Behn on your own journey as a playwright?

A: Aphra Behn was a phenomenal, fascinating figure. I think I was impacted by her tenacity and willingness to compete with her male peers and succeed. She made it into the history books and that is no small feat.

Q: Why is it so important to have female voices represented, both as a writer and a character on stage?

A: While any writer of any gender can write female characters, there’s a difference between imagining a life, and drawing from your own life experiences. Also, it’s so important for everyone—women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, people of different ages—to see themselves represented on stage. If theater is for everyone, then it is crucial that—at some point, in some script, at some theater—they see a version of themselves up there under those lights. How can a human know that they are welcome at the theater if they don’t ever see someone up there who looks like them? Or sounds like them? Or moves like them? They can’t. We have to tell all kinds of stories if the theater is truly for all people.

Q: What do you hope the future of female playwrights looks like?

A: I hope at some point, female (and POC, and LGBTQ, etc) playwrights are prevalent enough in this industry that we can just call them “playwrights.”

 

Sin Street Social Club opens in the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre on March 15, and runs until May 19. Tickets are on sale now!

An interview with Abner Genece of The Diary of Anne Frank

 

An interview with Abner Genece of The Diary of Anne Frank

How often have you attended a play with a vision of what the characters look like beforehand? What happens when they look nothing like what you expected? With today’s atmosphere geared toward inclusion and racial equity, diversity in casting is a hot topic. Color-conscious casting aims to choose performers based on their skill and character fit, but also to embrace how an actor’s race, gender, or disability can reveal new and interesting elements of a character and a story. In the Arvada Center’s 2019 Black Box Repertory season, The Diary of Anne Frank uses color-conscious casting for the role of the Dutch character Hermann van Daan. We spoke with Abner Genece, who portrays Mr. van Daan, on his views of casting diversity and how it can illuminate a play’s universal themes:

Abner Genece as Mr. van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank. Matt Gale Photography 2019.

  1. In this spring’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, you play Mr. van Daan, a character who in real life was a white Jewish Dutch man. As a man of Haitian descent, how did you approach inhabiting the character?

As a man of Haitian descent, I approach the character with a deep sense of respect, admiration and sincerity for Hermann van Daan’s cultural identity and historical significance. In The Diary of Anne Frank, I’m telling the story of a man who actually lived; a specific man: of a specific culture and time in history. My goal is to honor his story and culture as best I can, using all the tools that I have (including my own cultural perspective). In the end, I am telling his story within Anne’s story, in a way that aims to serve and enlighten.

 

  1. What universal themes of the play do you think are illuminated when race and ethnicity are not a factor while casting?

I recognize numerous themes that infuse my character’s journey in the play; such as honor, pride, resiliency, patience, humor, discrimination, passion, diligence, love, and loss. My goal was to bring such themes forth, through the character’s perspective.

 

  1. How do theatres respectfully create racially diverse companies and casts while recognizing the playwright’s original intentions?

I feel that it begins with an open, honest dialogue. How does one choose to define the position of the company? Is the theatre asking the right questions when it comes to racially diverse companies and casts? We, as theatre artists, have an opportunity to explore such questions with sensitivity, curiosity, and honesty. For me, it’s also important to remember that historically-marginalized groups, as a whole (such as those of African descent, for example) have never been on completely equal footing with regard to “mainstream” storytelling. To a large degree, choices in storytelling have been based on preconceived notions. To start these dialogues with such truths, with each story told, requires patience, commitment, and discipline.

 

  1. Diversity of casting is an important part of the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access). How does this affect the stories we can tell and how a philosophy of IDEA can play a part in telling those stories?

For me, the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative represents an exciting opportunity to approach and tell stories with uniquely fresh perspectives. The truths of these stories can be explored through formerly hidden lenses. My very casting illustrates a commitment to the philosophy of IDEA, and seeks to uncover truths that can be revealed and celebrated for the benefit of our audiences.

 

The 2019 Black Box Repertory Company features a rotating cast of talented actors – both new and familiar faces. Meet the company, and learn more about the plays presented this season, on the Arvada Center website. The Diary of Anne Frank runs until May 17. 

 

Students take the lead with Warren Tech and Arvada Center Art of the State collaboration

 

By Leslie Simon

When the Arvada Center hosts Art of the State, a juried exhibit of local artists, the beautiful artwork on the main posters and invitations is hard to miss.

 

Every year, Director of Galleries Collin Parson teams with Warren Tech’s Scot Odendahl, choosing one lucky student to provide the main artwork while getting a chance to experience working in graphic design at a professional level. As the students hone in on their unique ideas, they are given assistance in ways to really amp up their work to a professional standard.

“We give the students the concept, theme and title for the winter and spring exhibits. They get to create graphic murals that we incorporate into printed invitational postcards,” Parson said.

While previous years saw only Graphic Design students participating, the program continues to grow and offer artistic opportunities for students in other concentrations to be a part of Art of the State. ODendahl remarks “This year we have expanded once again to create a multi-disciplinary program called the IDEA (InterDisciplinary Enterprise Apprenticeship) Group that consists of Computer Science & Cybersecurity, Game Development, Graphic Design & Digital Photography, STEM: X-TREME Engineering, and TV/Video Production. Students now have the ability to work together with other Warren Tech programs to solve multi-disciplinary problems in a creative environment.”

The collaborative program for Art of the State is a great way for students to get a head start in their creative profession.  Each winning selection is adapted into various sizes and forms, from the 8’x8’ mural in the Main Gallery to the postcard invitations that have the students name credited on them. “It’s a win-win for everyone as they get a professional setting to experience and we get amazing and unique graphics while extending our mission of arts education,” said Collin.

With both the Arvada Center and Warren Tech being important community institutions in Arvada, it only makes sense that there is an overlap for some of the students.

“Our students love working with the Arvada Center, and many of them have been coming to events there since they were in elementary school. Seeing students have an experience working with a venue that has been a great influence on their early life impact and continue on into their future careers has been amazing to witness,” says Odendahl.

Warren Tech graphic design student Hunter Beckett with his design. Photo courtey of Jeffco Public Schools.

So when you see the poster for Art of the State 2019 this year with its beautiful state flower, the columbine, know that the artwork came from the hard work of a Warren Tech student artist and the guidance of the Arvada Center. What began as a student artwork exhibit grew into those students creating professional work for us, and we look forward to seeing how the relationship continues to grow.

Art of the State 2019 begins this Thursday, January 17 with a free reception from 6 – 9 pm. In its third iteration, Art of the State 2019 garnered 1,555 entries from 566 artists in a call for entry that was open to all Colorado artists utilizing all media. It runs until March 31.