Eccentric ‘zombie ballet’ explores bounds of human imagination

Lauryn Bolz

Have you ever thought of the undead dancing elegantly on a stage? 

The darkly whimsical rock-infused ballet, ‘Wicked Bayou,’ wrapped up production on October 28th at the Performing Arts Complex at Pinnacle Charter School in Denver. It marked the end of the first collaboration among artists and father and son duo, Clay and Cohen Rose at Wonderbound, a contemporary dance company in Denver. The successful run showed promise for further projects from this unconventional and creative team.

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‘Wicked Bayou’ began with Clay Rose and Mortimer Leech, two very different minds that share the same body. Rose is the lead singer for Boulder-based rock band Gasoline Lollipops. For over two decades, he has created mournful, folk-induced ballads, and along the way came to manage Leech’s band, The Widow’s Bane. The power struggle between the two has created a strange creative exchange.

‘Wicked Bayou’ combines elements of Cajun and Creole culture to create a mysterious and whimsical show. (Amanda Tipton | Collegian)

Collaborating with the Cohen Rose, Clay Rose and Leech to bring Wicked Bayou to life was Garrett Ammon, creative director of Wonderbound. Known for its trademark blending of classical and modern styles, Wonderbound has created a new form of storytelling through music and dance.

“All of our dancers are classically trained ballet dancers,” Ammon said. “We combine it with other dance forms, might that be modern, jazz, hip-hop, to create something that is quite traditional we are doing it in a way that connects to a modern audience and tells contemporary stories.”

The other key creator on the team is Cohen Rose. Cohen Rose is a six-year-old aspiring inventor with a colorful imagination. While on a camping trip, Leech and Cohen Rose concocted the whimsical tale of the Wicked Bayou. With one being a traveling undead musician and the other an innovative first grader, they make a compelling pair.

“He modified my song into a story,” Leech said. “He fleshed it out and added a lot of colorful ideas. He’s the only mortal I don’t really mind working with.”

The creative minds of Clay Rose, Cohen Rose and Ammon were immediately compatible, and the group began to explore the darkness of Creole and Cajun folklore for what would become the two-year process.

“The first time we heard Clay, we knew he was a phenomenal musician and artist,” Ammon said.  “As we got to know the Widow’s Bane we realized that it was a great opportunity to create a show that is unlike anything that has ever been made before.” 

The show has proven to stretch the dancer’s creativity as well. For dancers who have been classically trained, straying from the usual balletic movements for styles that are more contemporary can be a challenge.

“We’re still up with most balletic movement but at the same time we’re super grounded.” said Nayomi Van Brunt, who plays protagonist Seraphine, an adventurous young girl from the Bayou. “This one is really tough but it’s fun.”

The Wonderbound dancers had to combine their classical ballet training with unconventional, contemporary movements to create doll-like movements for Act II. (Amanda Tipton | Collegian)

The Widow’s Bane and Wonderbound together created a haunting, untraditional and beautiful performance that drew the audience into a mysterious world. Leech’s lyrics combined with Ammon’s choreography, beautiful dancing by the cast and the Rose Boy’s story made for an unforgettable show.

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“To have a chance to explore into those aesthetics but to also really tell a story about love and fear and how we can overcome challenges,” Ammon said. “It’s a universal story, and to be able to tell that story in a new way is really amazing.”

Editors Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Clay Rose and Cohen Rose were brothers when they are actually father and son. This article now reflects the correct information. 

Lauryn Bolz can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @laurynbolz.