Tucked between drab warehouses in an obscure corner of North Park Hill is the new home of one of Denver’s most innovative artistic powerhouses. The creative hub, painted in dramatic hues of red and black, is the brainchild of Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, who are globally celebrated ballet dancers and the married couple behind the performing arts organization Wonderbound.
Primarily a contemporary ballet company, Wonderbound also curates and displays visual works, collaborates with local songwriters, stages productions with live bands, and has incorporated spoken word poetry into performances. Wonderbound exists “to foster bounding curiosity and thoughtful storytelling,” Fay says. “Everything is created for Wonderbound and choreographed by Garrett.”
The non-profit arts organization was born out of Ammon and Fay’s work with a dance school in Broomfield. They moved as an independent dance company to downtown Denver in 2013, which was Wonderbound’s first year as an official non-profit arts organization, before relocating to an industrial warehouse at the edge of the city. “Unfortunately, in November of 2020, at the same time we were in the pandemic, the warehouse was vandalized irreparably,” recalls Fay, who herself was confronted by a woman brandishing a wrench. While no one was hurt and Wonderbound’s costumes and set materials remained intact, the company had less than a month to find a performance site for its next scheduled show. “We immediately got on the internet and started looking for places,” she says. A few weeks later, even as Wonderbound was forced to delay its production schedule due to the pandemic, “the planets aligned,” Fay says, “and we found our home.”
Following months of renovation, Wonderbound’s new home in Park Hill opened this spring, and its first season at the site will debut Oct. 19. “This was the impossible dream,” Fay says. The heart of the new space is a former airplane hangar, which turned out to be an ideal performance hall. After renting the building for seven months, Wonderbound purchased the space in February of 2021, and Ammon “got to work with a measuring tape and writing plans,” Fay says. He and Fay partnered with a Denver architectural firm and a general contractor from Park Hill, with the final project totaling approximately $8 million. Fay says walking through the front door and seeing the completed remodel in its bold and beautiful glory “is thrilling each morning.” She muses, “Who gets this lucky? Out of terrible things can come amazing opportunity.”
Wonderbound’s company of dancers kept performing through the renovation process, just as they persevered through the Covid pandemic. “We made it work every time,” Fay says. “During the pandemic, we were a bubble together, and we didn’t conduct any furloughs, layoffs, or salary or staff cuts.”
Although Wonderbound’s 2023-24 season also marks the company’s tenth anniversary, Ammon refers to the opportunities presented by the new facility as “chapter one.” The season opener, Wicked Bayou, features songs by Denver musician Clay Rose, whose band The Widow’s Bane will play live with the performances. Other productions this season include Icy Haught, an eclectic collection of music and vibrant moves; Awakening Beauty, a reworking of the tale of Sleeping Beauty that will be accompanied by an orchestral ensemble; and Sam and Delilah, which traces Sam as a sheriff and Delilah as a beautician in 1970s Texas. “This is not the Nutcracker,” Fay says with a laugh.
Fay began her career at Ballet Oklahoma and went on to dance with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, where she performed as principal at age 19. She then performed for Ballet Memphis, where she met Ammon. Today she is president of Wonderbound. Ammon was drawn to dance as a teenager and later became a member of Houston Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Memphis. Under his tenure as artistic director, Wonderbound has become “an open laboratory for cross-disciplinary exploration and creation,” Fay says. Ammon describes their art as living “at the convergence of tradition and innovation, vulnerability and courage, and intimacy and openness.”
Fay admits, “When people started seeing Garrett’s work, they’d ask, ‘How are we going to keep you in Denver?’” She has always had a quick reply: “We really wanted to be something for this community, and we resonated with the sense of possibility in Denver. Call it the ‘Go West, young man’ vibe.”
Fay believes their Park Hill home is “magnificently placed to allow Wonderbound to do just that, serving the community.” She says, “Our mission is to use dance to deepen humankind’s common bond through uncommon endeavors of discovery and creation.” Since part of that mission includes welcoming people of various ages and backgrounds into the artistic process, the public is invited to attend weekly rehearsals at the new center (visitors must email beforehand to confirm the timing). Fay says, “We want the audience to lean in, to be part of the narrative, and to come away a little different, having experienced the story through the dancers’ souls.”
Visit Wonderbound.org for performance information.