After a refreshing run with their most recent whimsical winter production, Denver-based dance company Wonderbound is back with another in-person experience for local art enthusiasts—except this time, they’re not shying away from the shadows. Debuting February 25 and running through March 14 out of the company’s new studio, Wonderbound’s latest production The Troublemakers promises a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale through a film noir lens, with plenty of crooked schemes, dangerous dames, and unexpected twists along the way.

“I often love exploring genres from other art forms,” Wonderbound artistic director Garrett Ammon says. And when it came time to plot this year’s lineup, film noir felt like a fitting theme for the ensemble’s next endeavor. Defined by its arrival after World War II and amid the uncertainty of the nuclear age, the film noir genre gave way to quintessential moody classics a la Double Indemnity, Touch of Evil, and just about any movie starring Humphrey Bogart. The era of dark, brooding films were swimming in cynicism, nihilism, and collective disillusion—some of which might sound all too familiar for our current reality.

“Within the [film noir] genre, there’s this kind of tension that exists through the whole story—you don’t really know what’s going to happen next,” Ammon says. “There’s a certain amount of anxiety inside of it. So I think that’s a compelling thing about channeling the energy of the moment that we’re living in.”

Ammon says he still wanted to offer an escape for performance-goers, however, and create a world that audiences can enjoy getting lost in, even if only for 45 minutes. So what better option than the fantasy world straight from a classic fairytale? With a few added twists, the story of Cinderella fit the bill, so while audience members can still count on familiar characters—including those evil stepsisters—private detective Frank Mahone will act as Ammon’s new take on the fairy godmother, and Cinderella, the story’s new femme fatale.

The music from Cinderella, a ballet composed by Sergei Prokofiev between 1940 and 1944, ended up tying the whole thing together in a surprising way. “The beautiful thing about [Cinderella by Prokofiev] is, it was written right in the midst of the height of classic film noir,” Ammon says. “So you can really hear the aesthetic reality around music at that period and how compositional music was being influenced by film—and vice versa.”

To fully transport viewers into the black-and-white world of drama and intrigue, the lighting, sets, and costumes for The Troublemakers have all been designed in grayscale—something that, according to Ammon, ended up being fitting for the company’s industrial digs in Park Hill. The space became the company’s new home after its previous studios were broken into and vandalized this past November.

The studio has already opened its doors to other creatives, too. Wonderbound partnered with Leon Gallery to host local artist Michael Dowling in residence for The Troublemakers. Dowling has been sitting in on rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the production’s debut, and will be auctioning off five 4-by-17-foot paintings this month inspired by his observations of the show, with all proceeds being donated to Wonderbound—something Ammon points out was all Dowling’s idea.

“The subject matter has become such a crazy inspiration for me—dealing with movement and dealing with these bodies that I only get to see in that space for a second, and trying to create something based on that,” says Dowling, who has collaborated with Wonderbound before, but never in this observational-sketching style. “It’s so inspiring to see these people doing this magical thing in front of me.”

And while Dowling’s finished works—and the dancing on stage—might dwell heavily in the shadow-y aesthetics, the collaboration between the two and the continued opportunity to create live art represented a major bright spot in what’s been an otherwise near-impossible year for Colorado’s creative community.

“It’s very, very generous of [Michael] to do that for us…We’ve, on a lot of levels, had to kind of exist in our own little bubble for quite a while now. So reconnecting, having other creativity happening in the room with us at the same time, is a really wonderful experience,” Ammon says. “It helps remind you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

If you go: 3824 Dahlia Street; February 25 through March 14; $60; Social distancing and other public health precautions will be observed; Find tickets and more information on showtimes, safety measures, and studio location online. For updates on where and how to purchase Michael Dowling’s paintings, head to Wonderbound’s website.

Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill is 5280’s former associate digital editor.