Living dangerously

As long as most people can remember, the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre and its parent school, the New Studio of Dance, have been run by Artistic Director Susan Collard and her husband, Giles.

In fact, in local dance circles, the term “Susan and Giles” has become a reference to a single unit — much like salt and pepper. Technically, they’re separate entities — but you always know that if you’re with one, the other is close by, if only in spirit. For years, I’ve greatly admired their graceful and seamless work together. (As an Asheville native and former ACDT performer, I also remember the PG — Pre-Giles — days, during which Susan single-handedly endured my glasses strap, my Underoos peeking out of my leotard and my bumbling adolescence.)

Well, to paraphrase a Sondheim tune, they’re still here. And late last fall, Susan and Giles welcomed an addition to the ACDT family. The Be Be Theater, named for a hat worn by women in the ’50s — imagine a yarmulke riding sidesaddle on your head, adorned with sequins and pinned to the hair just above a low bun — is located adjacent to the New Studio (20 Commerce St.).

“This is a long-awaited dream come true,” confirmed Susan in a recent interview.

“The space, which incidentally used to be a print shop, came available and, luckily, we were granted first refusal,” she continues. “We jumped at the chance to convert the space into a ‘black-box’-style theater. Giles and I then discussed our ideas and inspiration from a recent trip to San Francisco’s avant-garde theater scene with Patty Glazer, part owner [of Be Be] and [a] local architect. She thought it was a marvelous idea and gave us the support and free rein to do what we wanted.”

The Be Be, which officially opened its doors last November, has all the modern-day accouterments — lights, sound, green room, and a marley (a special resiliant surface) dance floor — plus a few other features that set it apart from mos local performance venues. The seats, which accommodate nearly 100 patrons, can be placed virtually anywhere, providing many creative options for both directors and performers. Free parking is another plus. And, not least of all, the Be Be even has a fog machine to satisfy that little bit of Siegfried and Roy in us all. But the theater’s greatest feature may be its affordability.

“Asheville really needs more economical places for local artists just starting out to perform, as I’m sure you remember,” says Susan.

I do. But I won’t bore readers with details of my garish displays of puberty, trotted across some of the most abominable pieces of real estate that ever dared to call themselves stages. Back in those days, our motto could have read: “Been there, danced on that, got the grass-stained tutus to prove it.”

“Now that we have the Be Be,” says Susan, “we can rent to just about anyone and perform virtually anytime we want to.”

And indeed they have. Since November, the Be Be has hosted a number of theater groups, several social gatherings and, of course, dance concerts. Which brings me to ACDT’s next show, Cabaret Moderne.

Producer/director Severine Gaubert has been with ACDT for nearly two years, and she’s quite excited about the upcoming production. Cabaret marks the first time in the company’s history that one of its members will take on solo directing and producing duties. Local performance artists — including Becky Stone, Joy Black and Joe Mohar — will be part of the show (and don’t rule out special appearances by Josephine Baker, Al Capone, Duke Ellington, and Mugsy Malone). Cabaret will have a 1930s gangster theme, and the audience is encouraged to dress in period attire.

With her mesmerizing French accent, Gaubert has a voice guaranteed to bring any man to his knees. Thankfully, she will also perform in Cabaret.

“The first cabaret I was involved with was in 1998 at the Iseion Theater in my hometown, Montpelier, France,” the producer/director recalls.

Basically, a cabaret is an informal production in which the audience frequently becomes part of the show, as performers dance around spectators and involve them in the experience.

“It’s really an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere,” Gaubert promises.

“Our hope is that this cabaret will not only lead to future cabarets but open as many doors as possible for the Be Be,” Susan interjects. “Eventually we would like to continue what we started with Goo Say Ten [the Butoh company from Saporo, Japan] at the theater’s opening performance. I can see us hosting an entire season of international performances and possibly a fringe festival. … I think Asheville is the perfect place for that sort of thing.”

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