“One of my favorite dancers was my grandfather, and I only ever saw him dance once,” Giles Collard recalls.
“He was waiting for his wife to cook his breakfast,” continues Collard, a dancer, choreographer and instructor at Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre and the New Studio of Dance. “This wonderful, old-timey music was playing, and he did this funny little dance in the hall. It only lasted for about a minute-and-a-half, but it was perfect.
“If you put a person in a place where they feel comfortable and give them the right music, they’ll move to it.”
When Collard says “a person,” he means a man, because this is all about men — specifically, the nondancers of the species.
“Dance events are mostly women,” Collard explains.
Earlier this year, he and Cuban dancer Nelson Reyes, also of ACDT, performed Men Who Wear Colored Skirts (choreographed by Susan Collard) at the North Carolina Dance Festival. Giles and Nelson’s piece was well-received — though often there were only a few men in each performance during the festival’s tour of the state.
But with the Men’s Dance Festival, Collard is serious about putting guys in the spotlight. He created the event last year as a way to bring together an assortment of typically isolated local dancers and choreographers — all of them men — in one venue.
In fact, notes Collard, on this project, “A woman can coach or give feedback but not choreograph a piece.”
And this year, he extended the invitation to dancers across the state.
The result is an event that’s almost too big, apparently, to contain itself. “I have so much stuff planned, I can’t show everything in one night,” the choreographer reveals. “So the show will be a little different each night.”
Luckily, the festival has also stretched to four days.
New to this year’s roster are choreographers Barry Stoneking (from Winston-Salem) and David Beadle (from Raleigh), French dancer J.D. Dao (who performs a high-energy piece displaying his own trademark technique), and Sioux dancer Mark Mounce (from Waynesville, dancing in full regalia).
Back by demand are excerpts from Reyes’ Swan Lake, including a pas de deux (with Reyes reprising the title role and Collard dancing the rugby-player-turned-prince), as well as Douglas Haynes’ humorous piece “Shoes.”
“Last year, the audience commented that it was a very funny show,” says Collard. “We had only two or three serious pieces. But one piece, choreographed by Nelson, was so intense that the audience didn’t clap for, like, two minutes after the dance finished.”
He adds: “A lot of the pieces have humor — I don’t know why. I know when we’re in the men’s class, a lot of humor comes out, and we enjoy it.”
The class, which Collard teaches weekly, is not a direct result of last year’s festival — but after it was over, new male dancers began showing up for both the class’s adult and youth divisions.
Collard himself got his start with social dancing. As a teenager in France, “I was too shy to talk to girls,” he admits. Today, as an instructor, he expresses a preference for wallflowers.
“It’s nice to have these classes for people who didn’t dance early on … they have no prejudgment about what dance is.”
Once he found his footing, Collard hit the nightclubs whenever possible, and when he moved to Asheville he signed up for a modern-dance class, hoping to pick up some new moves. At age 28 he began a professional dance career, focusing on ballet, tap, butoh (a Japanese dance form), mime and fencing.
The Men’s Dance Festival has proved to be even more varied than Collard’s career, offering everything from Chinese movement and classical dance to modern experimental forms and break dancing. Performers range from professionals and former professionals to guys who just like to move.
“Who knows what will pop up that’s not even planned?” teases Collard.
But even as he’s looking forward to the element of surprise that comes from a weekend jam-packed with creative types, Collard cautions the audience not to improvise when it comes to buying tickets. “It’s good to reserve — and get there early,” he advises. “It got a little bit ugly at the box office last year.”
Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre’s Men’s Dance Festival — Men Dancing II — runs Thursday, Dec. 11 through Sunday, Dec. 14 at the Be Be Theatre (20 Commerce St.). Shows start at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost $12/adults, $8/children and students. For more information, call 254-2621.