Appetite for expression: Terpsicorps turns themes of hunger into a visual feast

EVERYBODY'S GOT A HUNGRY HEART: “When I started thinking about how I wanted to express this through dance, I didn’t necessarily just want to focus [a] singular definition of hunger,” says Terpsicops choreographer and founder Heather Maloy of the production Hunger. Photo by Zaire Kacz
EVERYBODY'S GOT A HUNGRY HEART: “When I started thinking about how I wanted to express this through dance, I didn’t necessarily just want to focus [a] singular definition of hunger,” says Terpsicops choreographer and founder Heather Maloy of the production Hunger. Photo by Zaire Kacz

The idea behind Hunger, the newest production from Asheville-based Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance, did not stem from a certain popular movie filmed in the area (sorry, Katniss). Instead, it grew from company founder and choreographer Heather Maloy’s more humanitarian desires.

“Originally, I wanted to draw attention to how severe the problem of hunger is within North Carolina,” she says. A 2012 study classified ours as one of 10 states with significantly higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average. “I don’t think many people know just how bad it is, statistically. We’re one of the worst areas in the entire country right here,” Maloy says.

But the scope of Hunger soon grew outward. “When I started thinking about how I wanted to express this through dance, I didn’t necessarily just want to focus on that as the singular definition of hunger,” says Maloy. She started thinking of hunger in the broader scope, as in what human beings hunger for. “Everybody has a different inner drive — some good, some bad — that makes us do what we do and guides our lives,” she says.

The production is divided into 12 distinct pieces, with concepts ranging from “Hunger for Love” to “Hunger to Kill,” all of which are presented in disparate fashions. Each section has its own style, from the poppier music and modern style of  “Hunger for Sustenance,” to a more classical piece set to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and choreographed by Terpsicorps ballet master Christopher Bandy.

“It’s very theater-based. There’s lots of humor and storytelling,” Maloy says of the show. Before starting Terpsicorps more than a decade ago, she performed with Carolina Dance Theatre. The choreographer she worked with at that company focused on storytelling and instilled in Maloy the idea that “great dancers should not just be beautiful movers and technicians, but they should be artists and be a character and tell a story,” she says. “That’s one of the things that’s unique about Terpsicorps. We draw dancers from Canada, Spain, all across the United States — and I’m very specific in what I look for. … Not just beautiful dancers, but really good actors as well, who can convey very dark and very humorous emotions.”

Terpsicorps’ cast is culled from professionals from other companies who come to Asheville during the summer, which is the off-season for many dance troupes. The local modern ballet company’s studio is tucked away inside an old River Arts District warehouse with high ceilings. There, during rehearsals on a Tuesday afternoon, Maloy went through “Hunger for Sustenance,” the first piece of this year’s production. “I choreograph almost everything on the spot in the room,” Maloy says of how she builds a show. “There were phrases of movement, set steps of movement that [the dancers] already know. I’m taking bits and pieces of that and inserting it in different spots.”

She continues, “Most of my work happens right there on the spot with the dancers. I feel that when I try and go in a room and set things just right, it gets stale. It doesn’t take into account the talents of the people I’m working with.” The group rehearses from 11:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., five days a week. The dancers do get breaks, Maloy says, but she doesn’t. “Being a dancer’s very similar to being an athlete,” she explains. “When you hear about Olympic athletes and how much they work, it’s similar to that for dancers. You’re in better shape and a better dancer for working that many hours, but you’ve got to get it all done. So we’re here all day — it’s the job.”

That kind of conditioning is necessary: all of the choreography and the show itself are constructed over the span of a few weeks. The dancers rehearse for less than a month. Plus, Hunger will be performed for just one weekend at the Diana Wortham Theatre. “It’s a very quick rehearsal time. Most companies have more time than I give myself,” Maloy says. But it’s worth the trouble: “I work all year long for that one show.”

WHAT  Terpricorps Theatre of Dance presents Hunger
WHERE  Diana Wortham Theatre, dwtheatre.com
WHEN  Thursday-Saturday, June 26-28, at 8 p.m. $30 general, $28 seniors, $25 students, $20 teens, $12 children. Gala night is Thursday, June 26, 7 p.m. pre-show event. $75 VIP tickets

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