A universal language

For White Dog ProjectX International, collaboration and artistic exchange can span any cultural barrier. “Dance is a universal language,” declares Artistic Director Susan Collard. “Travel is the best education there is, and it truly changes your work,” she continues, describing the inspiration that compels the recently named international touring arm of the long-running Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre.

ACDT moves beyond Asheville: Erika Torres of Mexico (left) performs with Kala Hildebrand in “Triangle—The White Parasol.” Photo courtesy Kala Hildebrand

For 19 years, ACDT has presented its unique fusion of modern-dance-meets-movement-theater in festivals and concerts in France, Cuba, Mexico and Canada. Stressing the value of cross-cultural exchange, the nonprofit company aims to “link Asheville to the international art scene by creating original dance dramas in collaboration with foreign companies, choreographers, dancers, musicians and artists; [and] by bringing foreign artists, teachers and performers to Asheville,” according to its mission statement.

“We hope to explore the through-lines that exist between cultures on an intellectual and creative level,” explains Giles Collard, the company’s co-director.

Since 1990, ACDT has performed in such venues as the Danses OFF festival in Montpellier, France, and the Habana Vieja Ciudad en Movimiento (“City in Motion”) in Havana. The company also creates and performs full-length, modern-dance “ballets.” The multidisciplinary piece “Looking for Frida,” starring Cuban dancer Nelson Reyes, has been warmly received in both France and Mexico, and the modern-dance ballet “Zelda,” based on the tumultuous life of Zelda Fitzgerald, has traveled to both Cuba and Canada.

In the fall of 2007, White Dog ProjectX International launched its most ambitious collaboration to date, “The Convent of the Devil,” an epic modern-dance ballet created in partnership with the Compañia de Danza Contemporánea de Yucatán of Mérida, Mexico. The Collards worked closely with Mexican choreographer Graciella Torres and composer Carlos Gutierez, sharing all production duties from costume and set design to lighting and music. The show premiered at the Diana Wortham Theatre before traveling to Mexico, where it was featured in the Yucatán erotic-dance festival at the Teatro Mérida.

To support more such exchanges and collaborations with the Mexican dance community, the Collards recently bought a house in Mérida that’s big enough to house the company when they’re on tour. ” Mérida is a very large city and is full of art and sophistication,” says Susan. “They have a ballet company, a symphony and a contemporary dance company, where dancers are paid by the government to tour across the world.”

And despite the considerable challenges of traveling with a full dance company, the benefits are greater still, she maintains. “[We gain] wonderful new ideas from other cultures and learn other ways of seeing things, other ways doing things, of teaching, learning and appreciating art.”
Info: White Dog ProjectX and Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre, 20 Commerce St., Asheville NC 28801 (254-2621; www.acdt.org; 254-2621).

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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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