A choreographer can spend hours developing a story in his or her head—and then devote many more to imagining the movements and staging that bring that tale to life. But it isn’t until he or she has the final music that the true work begins. The dance, after all, is at least partially reliant on the beats, pauses, and moods of the song it is performed to.

For Wonderbound artistic director Garrett Ammon and Denver-based musician Jesse Manley, the creative process for Winter—the contemporary dance company’s latest work, which promises to tantalize each of the five senses—began almost a year ago. (Manley previously collaborated with the group on last year’s A Gothic Folktale.) Manley’s varied inspirations (classical, folk, blues, and jazz, among them) come through in the seven folksy, instrumental songs he created, which feel both familiar and of a different time. “For this project, I was interested in music of the 1920s, some of the jazz and blues music from that era,” he says. “It may not come across that way when you hear the music, but the influences are there.”

In composing for dancers, Manley is constantly balancing his vision for a song with the elements dancers need, like changes in tempo and shifts in mood. (Ammon also provides feedback in the development process as the choreography comes together.) The new tunes for Winter—which Manley and his band will play live during performances—are studied and lively in a way that convinces the listener that they must have come from the soul of someone who has devoted his entire life to music. However, Manley didn’t start writing music until after college. In fact, the 38-year-old is mostly self-taught. His primary instrument is the acoustic guitar, but he also dabbles in (and writes for) the banjo and piano. “I write different voices on different instruments,” he says. “It’s fun to pick up an instrument and write a tune maybe I wouldn’t have written if I wasn’t switching around and playing different instruments.”

Often, Ammon offers up a piece of literature that Manley can use as an additional source of inspiration. For Winter, it was Touch, a novel by Alexi Zentner, which adheres to the literary concept of “magical realism.” “It’s taking these otherworldly happenings and incorporating them into a real-world situation,” Manley says. In other words, it’s a fitting concept for a musician who must seize upon the imaginings of a choreographer and help transform them into a memorable experience for the audience.

Click play below to get your first taste of Winter with a preview of Manley’s “The Dance”.

Winter hits the stage December 10, 11, 17, and 18, with two shows each evening (6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) at Wonderbound Studio at Junction Box, 1075 Park Ave W. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased here.

Next up: Take a peek at the ballet’s costumes with designer Rachel Kras.

(Follow our complete coverage of Wonderbound’s Winter)

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.