The antics of the Old West take on a whole new form with Wonderbound’s latest work, The Sandman—a tale of love, loss, and everything in between, for the local contemporary ballet company’s second collaboration with Boulder-based musician and frontman for the band Gasoline Lollipops Clay Rose.

The full-length show might indeed be a love story—fitting for its opening night on Valentine’s Day—but Wonderbound artistic director and choreographer Garrett Ammon describes the “newfangled western” as much more than that. The drama follows the intertwined journeys of several characters, centering around an outlaw and his love interest—the sheriff’s daughter, of course—and a devilish villain named the Sandman. And as Ammon aptly warns, it doesn’t hold back from diving into the nitty gritty. “We’re dealing with addiction and neglect,” Ammon says, listing off several of many themes explored in the production. Rose chimes in: “And everyone’s searching for redemption.”

Rose’s music laid the road map for the upcoming performance, as the emotional adventure is set to a live score of more than 20 songs from Gasoline Lollipop’s alternative country catalog. But the band’s song “Santa Maria” in particular serves as the origin point for the entire idea of the show. “That song [Santa Maria] actually tells the last two minutes of the whole ballet,” Ammon says. “So we had to go from there and then work backwards and discover who these characters were that ultimately meet up in this kind of Old West showdown.”

“The overall feeling—the theme of the story—when we first started talking, it was really a Spaghetti Western,” Rose adds. “I don’t feel that that’s the case at all now.” Ammon agrees: “In Spaghetti Westerns, I think the characters are often a little more two-dimensional” he says.

“And the story line is fairly predictable,” Rose says. The two artists have a way of finishing each other’s thoughts. “That’s what I kind of thought we were going towards, and it’s turned into something very different.” Ammon jumps right back in: “Yeah—and it’s almost like the characters demanded it.”

Members of Gasoline Lollipops (from left to right): Clay Rose, Kevin Matthews, Brad Morse, and Donny Ambory. Photo by Arrianne Autabo

Rose never anticipated being involved in something like the creation of a ballet, but it was Ammon’s wife and president of Wonderbound, Dawn Fay, who discovered Gasoline Lollipops and encouraged Ammon to catch one of their gigs at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox several years back. The two approached Rose after his first set that day and asked about working together on a production—and at first, he didn’t think they were serious. But before he knew it, they were creating their first project, Wicked Bayou, a swamp-zombie epic set to the tunes of Rose’s other band, the Widow’s Bane—a group Rose describes as Eastern European Klezmer music. Almost immediately after the final Wicked Bayou show, the two started talks of their next project. This latest collaboration with Gasoline Lollipops—a crew blurring lines between soulful country and alternative rock ‘n’ roll—naturally made for an entirely different show.

“Clay is a songwriting madman,” Ammon says, “It’s amazing how much [material] he has, and each of those [songs] has its own story.” Ammon has prior experience crafting shows to one-of-a-kind Americana aesthetics, including a ballet he choreographed in Memphis entirely to Johnny Cash songs. And The Sandman promises an infusion of plenty of similar rugged sounds, with both graceful and weighty movement to match.

“It’s life, in its rawest form,” Ammon says. Rose replies with a smirk: “It’s filthy, and it’s holy.”

If you go: February 14–16, 22–23; $25–$50; find tickets and more information on various showtimes/locations online.

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