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When faced with adversity, artists often turn to what they know: creating. Each paintbrush stroke, song lyric, or dance move is their attempt at processing the world around them and their place within it. That exploration of humanity is at the heart of much of the work created by two of Denver’s most celebrated talents: contemporary dance troupe Wonderbound and alternative hip-hop duo Flobots.
This month, the two forces come together for the pointedly named Divisions. The immersive show pulses with energy and emotion. The rhythm of the Flobots’ new, original music, performed live by Jamie “Jonny 5” Laurie and Stephen “Brer Rabbit” Brackett, pounds through the dancers as they jump and spin across the stage with extraordinary power. Backed by six Flobots band members and three Spirit of Grace singers, Divisions is gritty, honest, and truly unforgettable.
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While the pairing may seem incongruent at first, each of these organizations views art as a means of inspiring conversation and social change both on an intimate level and for broader communities. For Flobots, that effort has most often been achieved through social justice efforts and activism. For Wonderbound, it’s happened by bringing unexpected groups together through dance—in collaborations just like this one.
The idea to produce a project together started percolating almost six years ago, when Flobots showed up at a rehearsal of Wonderbound’s Carry On, which featured music by Colorado band Paper Bird. (The Flobots later sampled some of the show’s soundtrack on 2012’s The Circle in the Square.) But it wasn’t until two years ago that the conversation got serious. “Both of us [had] to evolve to a place where we felt like we could take it on,” says Wonderbound artistic director Garrett Ammon. “We have a lot of things in common about what we’re saying. It feels like the right moment.”
For Ammon, Divisions is, in part, a study of how individuals learn to navigate the world’s complexities. “Every generation goes through this loss of innocence that’s disruptive to the collective psyche because the world is so different from what [they] thought it was,” he says. “But in actuality these things have been playing themselves out over and over again.”
In researching for Divisions, he listened to audio recordings of speeches from various revolutions throughout history. He was also inspired by anti-establishment champions like Frida Kahlo, Angela Davis, and Jimi Hendrix—distinct individuals who also represented a collective voice. While Ammon isn’t trying to make a political statement, he does acknowledge these themes are particularly relevant in 2017, a time when the world could benefit greatly from listening to voices that are different from one’s own.
Brackett agrees. “I think the most important thing is to not be agnostic to another person’s pain,” he says. “I feel like in this climate everything becomes political, frustratingly so. The aim of this show is to pull back those facades and reveal the pulsing humanity underneath all this.”
Divisions doubles as an album release for Flobots. The Denver-born band’s latest record, Noenemies—which was funded entirely through a Kickstarter campaign—goes on sale May 5. Divisions incorporates most of the album’s tracks, plus a couple of older songs and some that didn’t make it on the record. (Noenemies is a two-parter. The free B side is filled with protest songs, old and new.) Audiences will also see the duo performing some of Ammon’s choreography. “It’s something else to hear the intent of the album expressed physically through dance,” Brackett says. “It’s the deepest, most accurate representation of our work.”
For years, Brackett and Laurie have used their literal voices to speak out about unity, empathy, frustration, and uncertainty. Ammon has used dance. In the end, they say it’s all the same language. “If you want your voice to be heard, you need to allow other people’s voices to be heard too,” Ammon says. In Divisions, two brilliant groups give each other the chance to speak—and respond—to one another. Audiences would be smart to listen.
If You Go: Divisions hits the stage for three consecutive weekends from April 14 to 30; the venues vary by weekend. Tickets are $22 to $50.