“Di­vi­sions” unites Won­der­bound, Flobots

Col­lab­o­ra­tive new work com­bines hip-hop, bal­let

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By John Wen­zel The Den­ver Post

In some ways it seems in­evitable that Won­der­bound, Colorado’s sec­ond-largest pro­fes­sional bal­let com­pany, would pair with Flobots, one of Den­ver’s best­known mu­si­cal ex­ports.

Their shared artis­tic and ed­u­ca­tional goals, and knack for at­ten­tion-get­ting projects, has kept them at the fore­front of the Mile High City’s cul­tural con­scious­ness for the bet­ter part of a decade. In a cozy, still-ma­tur­ing artis­tic scene such as ours, it would be strange if they didn’t at least cross paths — if not work to­gether at some point.

So why is it only hap­pen­ing now?

“We kept flirt­ing with the idea,” said Jamie Lau­rie, a.k.a. Flobots rap­per Jonny 5. “When

they reached out in 2015 about do­ing some­thing to­gether for their 2017 sea­son, we were like, ‘Well, we’ve never planned any­thing this far ad­vance in our lives, but sure, let’s do it!’ “

That “some­thing” ended up be­ing “Di­vi­sions,” a new work that pre­views at Won­der­bound’s Junc­tion Box stu­dio, 1075 Park Av­enue West, at 6:30 p.m. on March 28, and runs at a va­ri­ety of venues in Den­ver and Parker April 14-30.

It’s fa­mil­iar ground for Won­der­bound, the con­tem­po­rary bal­let out­fit led by hus­band-and­wife team Gar­rett Am­mon and Dawn Fay. The com­pany has col­lab­o­rated in re­cent years with Den­ver mu­si­cians such as Pa­per Bird, Ian Cooke, Chim­ney Choir and DeVotchKa’s Tom Hager­man, as well as vis­ual artists, writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers.

And Flobots — the earnest, ac­tivist alt-pop group whose sin­gle “Han­dle­bars” gained na­tional at­ten­tion af­ter achiev­ing plat­inum sales sta­tus in 2008 — is well-known lo­cally for its com­mu­nity en­gage­ment with cli­mate change, racial jus­tice and mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the Youth on Record non­profit it launched in 2008 (orig­i­nally called Flobots.org).

“They sam­pled parts of ‘Carry On’ from Pa­per Bird on their last al­bum, and we used mu­sic from their last al­bum ‘The Cir­cle in the Square’ a lot for some our spon­ta­neous per­for­mances in the com­mu­nity and with the Bi­en­nial,” Am­mon said. “But we’ve never di­rectly col­lab­o­rated on any­thing.”

That changed two years ago as Flobots be­gan work on its new al­bum, “NOENEMIES,” which will be re­leased on May 5. The al­bum is a lush stu­dio project for the hiphop-based act, in­clud­ing strings, horns and a gospel quin­tet.

But when the band per­forms live with Won­der­bound, it will be ven­tur­ing into new ter­ri­tory.

“(Be­ing) right in the midst of cre­at­ing a new al­bum (has) al­lowed ideas to flow in both di­rec­tions quite or­gan­i­cally,” Lau­rie said. “With the al­bum fin­ished, but not yet re­leased, we’ll be play­ing most of these songs live for the very first time. We’re work­ing with Gar­rett to re­ar­range the mu­sic in or­der to tell the same story from a chore­og­ra­pher’s per­spec­tive, mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence that much more vis­ceral.”

Work­ing with dancers opens up “brand new ter­rain,” as Lau­rie called it, in terms of how mu­si­cians per­form. And as a hip-hop group, en­gag­ing the crowd is es­sen­tial. Since shows like this of­ten come to­gether in the last few weeks, Am­mon is just now start­ing to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties in re­hearsals — in­clud­ing (fair warn­ing) some au­di­ence in­ter­ac­tion.

“It’s nat­u­rally em­brac­ing the rhyth­mic as­pects of hip-hop mu­sic, rather than melody be­ing the driv­ing force,” Am­mon said. “The lyri­cal struc­ture and how they use words to cre­ate beats is driv­ing the phys­i­cal­ity, but I feel like it’s still dis­tinctly bal­let, move­ment-wise.”

Hav­ing spent most of his ca­reer as a con­tem­po­rary bal­let chore­og­ra­pher, Am­mon is draw­ing on me­mories that pre­ceded even his first dance lessons, when he moved to Janet Jack­son, Young MC and other pop/hiphop in show choir while grow­ing up in Tus­con, Ariz.

Like­wise, the mem­bers of Flobots are reach­ing deep for their per­for­mance, bring­ing 13 play­ers on stage for the live shows — in­clud­ing Spirit of Grace, a gospel choir the band worked closely with in cre­at­ing its new al­bum.

“We put more time and care into this al­bum than any other we’ve ever cre­ated, be­cause it felt cru­cial that peo­ple from all walks of life be able to see the them­selves re­flected in it,” Lau­rie said, be­fore adding this typ­i­cally up­beat com­ment on the name of the show: “We’re liv­ing in a time in which divi­sion is a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s some­thing we share. In that shared ex­pe­ri­ence, there is rea­son to hope.”

Pro­vided by Amanda Tip­ton

Flobots rap­pers Jamie Lau­rie, left , and Stephen Brack­ett are sur­rounded by Won­der­bound dancers in this image from the new show “Di­vi­sions,” which will pre­view on March 28.

Daily Cam­era file

Den­ver alt-pop/hip-hop group Flobots in­cludes, from left, Kenny Or­tiz, Jamie Lau­rie and Stephen Brack­ett. The band’s new al­bum, “NOENEMIES,” drops May 5, and fans can get a live pre­view dur­ing Won­der­bound’s “Di­vi­sions” show start­ing March 28.

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