The edge of the stage

Abstract and experimental art takes center stage in the fifth annual Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. From body-painted performers to shadow puppets, installation art to dance, the festival continues to chart the artistic terrain of the strange, the new and the original.

The many artists involved in this four-day marathon of performances are asked to push their work to the edge—to find out what happens when artistic boundaries are challenged. Though the results of this task are unpredictable, they are often exciting, wild and absolutely unique.

Provocative much? The Asheville Fringe Arts Festival seeks to redefine the boundaries of the local arts scene.

After attending the Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists in Toronto, where dancers moved between the limbs of trees and challenged the traditions of dancing on a stage, Susan and Giles Collard, the artistic directors of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre, returned to their hometown of Asheville inspired. They decided to create a citywide festival honoring “the unusual and unexpected spectrum of the performing world,” explains Jim Julien, performer and co-director of the local festival. In 2003, the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival was launched, and challenging, edgy art found a place in the spotlight.

Over the past five years, the festival has grown significantly. According to Julien, this year’s “cabaret style, mixed-media performances” will be traveling further than ever before, with performances at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, the BeBe Theatre and on the LaZoom bus.

“We got together with the folks of the LaZoom bus and wanted to try out the possibility of having a mobile venue [where the audience] travels around town with performers, stopping to see a performance along the way, ” Julien reports. “Those should be exciting tours.”

For the participants and artists involved in the festival, a valuable forum for discussion and collaboration is established each year. “The fringe festival encourages collaboration and communication between artists: to explore and look at their art mediums in a different way,” explains Erin Braasch, festival co-director and artist for Moving Women. Collaboration of this kind has inspired many artists to participate in the festival, including Kathy Meyers, a dancer, teacher, choreographer and performance artist.

The festival is “a great opportunity to explore with other artists,” says Meyers.  “With each collaboration there is new insight into my endeavors as an artist. [Each year] I learn so much about the challenge of communication and the creative process.”

Stina Anderson, another featured artist, will be using fiber art, found objects, film and sculpture in her performance of The Vehicle, an interactive sculpture-building story, Julien notes.

For audience members, the fringe festival offers a unique opportunity to see what local artists generate for such an avant-garde occasion. The festival thrives with “an audience with an appetite for adventurous performances [who are also] curious and interested in new and original work,” says Julien.

“We try our best to make each festival radically new and different,” explains Braasch. “It’s a great chance for newcomers to see what’s out there and is an opportunity to be introduced to a variety of artists in the community.”

“A common misconception about the festival is that it’s dark, twisted and too abstract. [But] performance art runs the gamut of life and has great variety and mood,” says Julien. “The festival is a full experience, and we embrace weird as part of how wonderful this event is.”

who:Asheville Fringe Arts Festival
what:Unusual, edgy performance art
where:BeBe Theatre, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and the LaZoom Bus
when:Thursday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 27 ($30 all-access pass, or by event. For complete schedule, visit or 236-0439)

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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