By Erica Boniface
Some people just have it. You know what we’re talking about – they have that spark, that drive, that creativity – that hunger to reach further and further. The ones who look to the future and make change happen to reach personal and professional goals.
Wonderbound’s Artistic Director and Choreographer Garrett Ammon is one of those leaders. He and his wife Dawn Fay started their dance company in 2007 after moving to Colorado (Wonderbound was formerly called Ballet Nouveau Colorado) and the two of them brought the dance company to compelling new heights. And just recently, the company moved to a new location with bigger space.
Garrett Ammon is also a 2011 Livingston Fellow. We know Garrett as the Artistic Director and Choreographer for Wonderbound. We know he and Dawn are constantly growing Wonderbound and changing Denver’s arts scene through their groundbreaking creativity and memorable performances. But what has Garrett been up to since being named a Fellow in 2011? We wanted to catch up with him and get his take on Wonderbound’s big move, his biggest lessons learned as a Livingston Fellow – and even discover his favorite motivational quotes.
Get to know Garrett Ammon now:
Hi Garrett! Wow, it’s been a wild couple of years for you and the staff at Wonderbound. Recently, Wonderbound just announced that the company will move to a new space in Elyria-Swansea. Tell us a bit more about the move and what it will mean for the company.
Yes, the past few years have been incredibly exciting. Sometimes it is hard to believe that it was just five-and-a-half years ago that we moved the company downtown and became Wonderbound. We have taken on so many memorable projects and collaborated with countless artists in that time. All of this work helped us discover what Wonderbound could be.
And now, all of a sudden, we are at another big moment in Wonderbound’s journey—we moved to our new location on September 1. It has been a long time coming, but it wasn’t until recently that we knew where we would ultimately land. Our staff, dancers and board have been incredible throughout the process, it’s not easy to move toward a goal with so much uncertainty about what it is that you are moving toward. I think that has become a defining quality of Wonderbound in and of itself. We have been able to do so many things because everyone trusts in the capacities of the individuals, as well as the whole, to achieve the organizations goals, even when those goals are obscured by the horizon. It is a framework of calculated risk and trust. But the reward for that kind of risk can be remarkable—there are so many things to be excited about with this move.
The first is more space. For over five years, we had only one rehearsal studio. That put a significant strain on the organization with the number of programs we produce every year—for a dance company, space literally is time. With the addition of a second studio we will
become more cost efficient while raising the caliber of the art. We also now have central heat and air! Our space on Park Avenue West was beautiful and inviting, but it was a garage. The summer months were unbearable in the space, and we simply couldn’t have the company dance during those periods.
There are also so many things that we had learned to live without. Everyone (our employees, collaborators and audience) was so respectful and understanding of those shortcomings, but I have to say, it is good to have more than two restrooms, not to mention dressing rooms with doors as well as floors that are not concrete.
And, while we are still at the beginning of the process and don’t know what the details look like yet (notice the theme?), this location offers Wonderbound permanence thanks to Brooke and Tom Gordon, two of our supporters who have stood by us through this entire endeavor. Gary Steuer said it so well when he shared Bonfils-Stanton Foundation’s thoughts about our move:
“Securing appropriate and affordable space in Denver has become a critical problem for arts groups in our community and poses a risk to the future of our cultural sector. We therefore especially applaud all of those involved in making this new home a reality for Wonderbound, and hope it inspires other property owners, developers and patrons to action.”
We are also excited to get to know our new neighborhood. We are proud of the work we were able to do on Park Avenue West by engaging creative placemaking in a way that was positive and enriching for the neighborhood’s residents. Now we need to discover what that looks like at our new home.
This may be tough to answer – but what’s been your most cherished memory as Artistic Director and Choreographer at Wonderbound?
That is tough to answer, there are too many to count. I am blessed every day to live in an environment of creativity and exploration, to work with the finest artists to discover new possibilities, and to share what we create with our community. I cherish the work of doing that every day, together.
When I think about what we were six years ago and what we are today, I am overwhelmed by the distance that we have traveled. But we also keep our eyes trained on the future, in so many respects we feel like we have just begun the journey.
You were selected to the Livingston Fellowship Program in 2011. What was your biggest learning experience that you took away as part of the Fellowship Program?
Our transformation from Ballet Nouveau Colorado into Wonderbound came almost in tandem with my Livingston Fellowship, so I can’t easily separate the two in my mind and heart. Bonfils-Stanton Foundation was the catalyst as well as the support system that allowed us to engage in that very high-risk endeavor. At the same time the Fellowship supported and encouraged my personal growth as a leader and artist.
If I had to pinpoint my most significant learning experience it would be discovering what my greatest value is and then learning to embrace it. Ultimately, I serve Wonderbound the best when I am focused on making art with our dancers, production team, and collaborators, while further defining the vision of what the organization can be in the future.
I learned that I am not built to be in an executive role on a day-to-day basis. I can do it when necessary, but it is not what fuels me. We recently transferred the presidency of the organization from me to my wife and partner Dawn Fay, Wonderbound’s Producing Director. Though it may be a fairly symbolic gesture from an external perspective, it solidifies a way of thinking for the organization that allows both her and me to continue to grow in the areas that are best suited to our talents and skills.
What has been your favorite part about being a Livingston Fellow?
Bonfils-Stanton Foundation is unique in the world, the staff is far more than a group of administrators charged with distributing funds in the community, they are advisors, confidants, advocates, and sometimes a much-needed critic. I don’t mince words when I say we would not have made it without them.
I think the Fellowship exemplifies the Foundation’s unique approach. The personal value of knowing that each of the staff are there and available when advice, perspective, or support is needed can’t be overstated. And Jesse King, the Fellowship’s advisor, has been a godsend for me personally on more than one occasion.
The program is also a true fellowship, the comradery that exists among this extraordinary collective of people is genuine. We are all very busy, and we may not be able to see each other as often as we would like, but when we can, there is an ease of mutual understanding and respect that is replenishing and deeply gratifying.
I also look back to the first two years of my Fellowship—those were a couple of the hardest years for me as a leader. Our class of 2011 (Tony Garcia, Alyssa Kopf, Lisa Hill and Mike Yankovich) would meet every other week, and they could be saviors sometimes when it felt like the water was over my head.
For future and new Livingston Fellows, what advice do you give them?
Embrace the unknown and the journey. I think the beginning of the Fellowship can feel like standing at the edge of a dense jungle, and you have to create a path, not follow one previously taken—it is daunting and intimidating. The staff and other Fellows will provide valuable advice, tools, and perspective, but it is really up to you to find your way. And that’s a good thing. You will come to know yourself in an entirely new way and discover capacities you didn’t know you had.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote that you live by?
There is some wonderful writing by E.E. Cummings on the courage to be yourself that is too long to quote here, but an excerpt can be found on the Brain Pickings website, and I find it to be deeply moving and inspiring:
At the top of the story, there is a short quote from Friedrich Nietzsche that captures some of Cummings’ thoughts, and reflects my humble advice in a much more elegant and succinct manner:
“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”