A dance for decent women

Hard Knock Life: "One of the important messages I wanted to portray was that these are really good women who are actually forced to do this work because it's the only way they can survive," says ACDT’s artistic director Susan Giles. Photo courtesy of ACDT
Hard Knock Life: "One of the important messages I wanted to portray was that these are really good women who are actually forced to do this work because it's the only way they can survive," says ACDT’s artistic director Susan Giles. Photo courtesy of ACDT

In the 35 years that Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre has operated in Asheville, it has earned a reputation for producing complex and thought-provoking work. Lead by artistic director Susan Collard and co-director Giles Collard, the company is drawn to dark subject matter, probing the complexity and dilemmas of the human world through modern dance and performance art.

In keeping with its commitment to producing provocative work, the company will present The Decent Women of Calle 58, a performance that strives to recreate the struggles and courage of Mexican women working as prostitutes in the Yucatán, a state in southeastern Mexico. Calle 58, which made its first Asheville appearance in June, takes the stage once again at the BeBe Theatre from Oct. 18-20. The production will then return to the Yucatán, where it will be performed in three cities this December, including Valladolid, Asheville's sister city.

"I went to the MACAY, a contemporary art museum in Merida [Yucatán’s capital], and there was an exhibit called Calle 58," says Susan, recalling the inspiration behind the company's latest production. "I really studied the exhibit," she says.

Susan describes the show as a collection of illustrations featuring sexo servidoras, accompanied by personal accounts of their lives and work. "I broke down in tears after I left the museum," says Susan. She spoke with the exhibit’s creator, Christian Rasmussen, a Danish social anthropologist who lived in Mexico for 30 years.

"I said to Christian, ‘I love your exhibit, I was really moved, but you know, something is really missing,’” she explains. “I said, 'It's missing music and dance. I just feel like these women's stories need to be interpreted differently, especially for those that don't know the language, since this is such a universal issue.'"

And thus their work began. With a small company of performing artists, including dancers Jaime Scott McDowell, Sharon Cooper, Kala Hildebrand, Megan Jackson, Sara Keller, Jenni Cockrell, CoCo Palmer Dolce, Alexis Miller and Raj Bowers-Racine, ACDT set out on a mission: To speak for those whose voices are rarely heard.

"One of the important messages I wanted to portray was that these are really good women who are actually forced to do this work because it's the only way they can survive, and help their families survive," says Susan. "I thought of myself, because I was a single mother: 'What if I couldn't make a living for my children? … Would I have done prostitution to survive?'"

For Giles, the experience of translating the original stories of the Women of Calle 58 was humbling. "While studying and translating the interviews, for the dancers to read, I kept breaking down [and found that] I really identified with these women. [During our] first performance in Mexico, we had sex servers come to see the show. They were regular women, just normal people. Meeting them has had major repercussions on my life here in Asheville. I am a lot more open to all people. I realize that everyone has a situation, a life. These women are like you, and it's easy to forget that."

Giles continues, "The law in the Yucatán is that pimps are illegal and brothels are illegal, but the state doesn't feel they have the right to tell someone that they can't sell their body to put food on the table."

As a guest artist in Calle 58 during the June performance, I have to admit that this is an affecting and powerful production. Audience members left in tears, moved by the stories of the young women who sold their bodies to support their familes. Yes, the subject is uncomfortable for many, but the reality remains: Women across the world are forced to sell themselves everyday. Shouldn't their stories be told?

— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at asezakblatt@mountainx.com

what: Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre presents The Decent Women of Calle 58
where: The BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St.
when: Friday to Sunday, Oct. 18-20, at 8 p.m. $15 in advance/$17 at the door. http://acdt.org.

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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