ACDT launches Festival of New Dance

IT STILL MOVES: Though New Dance has been historically considered a fringe idiom, it’s gained popularity on the world stage and has long been part of Asheville’s creative scene. Choreographers such as Kathleen Meyers Leiner, pictured, will showcase works in collaboration with filmmakers, projections and experimental music at the inaugural Festival of New Dance. Photo by Tom Leiner

For Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre’s latest offering, company director and founder Susan Collard took an invitational approach to the lineup. “This is an experiment for us to try a different concept with what’s called ‘new dance,’” she explains. “[It] involves a lot of projection, video and film, and almost everyone in this concert is using some type of collaboration with a filmmaker, a video projector or experimental music.”

The inaugural show (which, if successful, Collard and her husband, ACDT co-director Giles Collard, might expand to include dancers from beyond Western North Carolina) spotlights six local choreographers. Susan, Giles, Cilla Vee, A Eithne Hamilton, Kathleen Meyers Leiner and Melissa Wilhoit are “known for their ability to push creative boundaries, challenge audiences with unique dance styles that explore movement possibilities,” according to a press release, and “selected for their ability to create quality work within a time frame.”

The Festival of New Dance runs Thursday-Sunday, March 26-29, at the BeBe Theatre.

Inspired to create work around “a strange little toy” he found in Mexico, “I called some of my movement friends,” says Giles. His dance group includes Jim Julian, Edwin Salas, Raj Bowers-Racine, John Crutchfield and Sky McDowell. Some are known as dancers, others work in mediums such as theater and performance art. “I had visions about how the piece would start and how it would end. [Over dinner] we talked about more and more and more ideas. It turns out, of all the visions I had, nothing got picked. … We had such a wonderful, fun time together creating this piece of choreography.”

“They play well together,” says Susan. “I like to see men dancing together. It’s a nice addition. And [this is] a very funny piece.”

And, as might seem fitting for a concert of New Dance: “We have no soundtrack,” Giles notes. “It’s only with our bodies that we [make] the sound. … Everybody’s not afraid to do whatever.”

For Susan’s piece, local ambient composer Elizabeth Lang, aka Auracene, will create the score. Lang recently traveled with the ACDT dance troupe to Mexico. There, “Liz was using her voice a lot for that performance, and that was the first time I heard her using her voice that much,” says Susan. “Now it’s a requirement: ‘Liz, you have to use your voice for performance.’”

Another must for the Festival of New Dance is an element of audience participation in each performance. That’s “always a challenge,” says Susan. “If you get them involved as soon as they walk into the theater, environmentally, it works better. That’s what I’m trying to do with my piece.”

She adds that working with filmmaker Greg Herman for her dance has been inspiring: “It’s all about being in a bamboo jungle, being trapped in it and being freed.” At press time, she revealed, “[Herman] comes up with such great ideas. We’re at the point where we have to choose what [images] will be projected onto the dancers.”

Susan, who likes natural body movements as well as moves from the folk dance traditions of other cultures, says she works from improvisation and manipulation of phrases. “The dancers I have now are really good at improv,” she says. Sometimes, what they create “is totally new and fresh and original. It’s a feeling that what you’re doing is new to the body.”

She adds, “We do play.”

New Dance hasn’t always been well received, at least among mainstream showgoers. Giles says it used to be the territory of outsiders “who didn’t get grants, because ‘that’s not dance.’”

But that has changed and, even in Asheville, “More experimental work is going on, and not just at [alternative performance spaces like] REVOLVE,” says Susan. “I like the idea of dance available to everyone in the community.” To achieve that goal, two classes will be added to the festival — one on technique, on Saturday morning; and a creative processing class on Sunday at noon. Following the evening concerts, there will also be talk-backs between the dancers and audiences.

“If this thing continues, maybe we can have a forum of discussing what New Dance is all about, and the possibilities of building a bigger community,” Susan says.

If those goals seem lofty and far-off, there are also achievable and immediate objectives: “The biggest reward, for me,” says Giles, “is when you do something and just feel so good that you did it.”

WHAT: Festival of New Dance
WHERE: BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., acdt.org
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday, March 26-28, 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 29, 6 p.m. $18 students and seniors/$20 general admission

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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