Written by River Wharton
Images by Josh Barret
There is a corner of our city, not forgotten, but as yet left alone. Not Five Points, where recent developments have blended the infamous Welton to a sort of slow-growing creature, unsure of its own two feet. Not Sunnyside, a quiet neighborhood bordered by I-70, train yards, and a bustling bar and brunch scene. This mentioned corner has grown in obscurity on the Northeast corner of downtown. Nearby condos spring from the concrete in the Ballpark District. Victorian homes are renovated in Curtis Park. Two-story warehouses and convenience stores line the Park Avenue corridor here, where Broadway turns into Brighton. Change comes to all urban centers. Low-rent neighborhoods are renovated to provide space for an ever-increasing flow of new natives. These streets, these blocks, edge around an important piece of every city—a piece we try to hide.
The piece I mention is a corner, housing three of Denver’s homeless shelters. Catholic Charities, Denver Rescue Mission, and St. Francis Center all lie within a few blocks of each other. My bicycle route home once lead me down Lawrence, through the intersection of Broadway and Park. I passed through the throngs of men and women waiting to receive a bite to eat, a shower or a warm bed. They would all be standing along the road, passing between cars and bikes, laughing with each other. Walking up the line shaking hands, exchanging stories. What could I do, riding my bike late at night, for these brethren down the block? Each night I would ride by, unknowingly, a place that has created a space to reach out to our city. Inviting Denver’s people to take part in the warming art of dance.
Wonderbound is a modern dance studio that watches over the intersection of Park Avenue and Broadway. During rehearsal hours, for much of the year, it opens its doors to the public. Garrett, Wonderbound’s artistic director, told me, “Wonderbound believes that art can serve as an instrument for social change; Wonderbound has witnessed first-hand the positive, life-changing effects that its presence at Junction Box has brought to a community largely comprised of the poor and disenfranchised. Through rehearsals that can be viewed through the two large glass garage doors, Wonderbound provides its largest audience, the homeless, access to the beauty of dance on a daily basis. This inspiration has led to many of these people finding the inspiration and courage to take the steps to get back on their feet.”
The power of Junction Box is readily observed during weekday rehearsals. Young professionals, artists, locals, and the homeless come to watch the dancers move. They come to listen to the music, resting on plush couches surrounding the dancefloor. A new sort of community gathers here, one not comprised of similar social standing, racial background, or economic status. The thread uniting the hearts of observers is an appreciation for art. It is a voice whispering beside the ears of poor and rich alike, saying, “This is something to value. This is something that warms from the inside out. This is a light to guide our way.” This is one purpose of art – to gather around the well of our humanity, and discuss.
Garrett and Dawn, Wonderbound’s producing directors, commented on the future of their troupe and art that, “Wonderbound views it as their responsibility as artists to build a new narrative for the future of their art form as something that is born out of the people, and not imposed on the people. The organization’s newly-formed partnerships are enabling individuals to actively engage in the arts, furthering Wonderbound’s goal to make the community a more beautiful and connected place.” They view their community as not only next-door neighbors, but extending out into the rest of the city and surrounding areas. Working with a range of ages, from young children, to teens, to the elderly, Wonderbound provides access to dance and expression across every socioeconomic sector.
Certainly, using art as a motivator in the community and opening your door on the process must have some effect on the dancers and artists themselves. I was told, “As artists, we no longer have the expectation that we can perfect and refine something before it is shared with the outside world, and to do our best work, we must be comfortable with allowing ourselves to be utterly vulnerable in front of total strangers. Though we don't make an effort to change how we work when a guest is in the space, we have become willing participants in what science refers to as the observer effect—change that occurs to a phenomenon because of the act of observing it. There is no denying that we have all changed because of Wonderbound's open door policy—it places new kinds of expectations on everyone in the organization, it is highly demanding, and is not unlike having someone peer over your shoulder as you type. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences we have ever known.”
The truth is we are all willing participants. We are all observers, only sometimes we choose to ignore. Ignore the single mother asking for change, ignore the tents along the Platte River Trail, or ignore the shivering body in the doorway at two in the morning. We have a ribbon tied to our wrists that winds backward and forward through time. It winds around our family and loved ones, around strangers and friends alike. It winds around us all, bound together. To wonder is to be open; like the studio name implies, bind yourself to wonder. In wonder, there is bliss, and in the words of Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”
Fellow, as a company, a brand, an in-print and tangible magazine, as a group of artists and dreamers, and as a voice announcing the communion between a city and her denizens, is here inspired by the workings of Wonderbound at their Junction Box location. Here we have a group of artists not looking to rattle the cage with racy scenes, or evoke undeserved appreciation by claiming to change lives through art. Wonderbound is, quite literally, changing lives through their art. In turn, as a positive impact on the lives of their fellows, their art has changed. It is in the metaphor of their open doors. It is in the metaphor of their dance, their movement. It is in the truth of their story. Here, where there are no barriers from shelter to gallery, from street to stage, their movements provide warmth for many on the coldest nights in our city.