Innovation can take many forms. For the local dance collective Moving Women, innovation is less a matter of advancing any particular form and more about presenting a fresh social and personal perspective through movement.
In their upcoming performance, Thin Walls: A Private Glimpse Into the Tangled and Peculiar, the troupe offers a peek into the exceptional lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, the famous conjoined twins who became vaudeville stars. By using the unique challenges of dancing while attached, Moving Women is able to tell a larger story of two lives permanently joined. The performance also hints at the larger themes of connection, relationships and emotional distance.
The founders of Moving Women—Erin Braasch, Katherine Abbott, Jenni Cockrell Oldham and Kathy Meyers—worked together for more than five years in the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre. The impetus to create a company of their own began in the spring of 2007, after choreographing and performing a piece for Women’s History Month at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Directed by Kathy Meyers, the performance focused on various social and cultural expectations of women while addressing the extreme tactics used for the sake of “beauty.” After this performance, Meyers and her fellow dancers realized that their work together had only just begun.
“We realized then that we needed to become a company, to continue to work with the experiences of women as inspiration for our work,” explains Braasch. “We are interested in a wide range of experiences and emotions, from obscure to silly, heartfelt and intense.”
Their upcoming performance of Thin Walls is an example of just that kind of exploration. Joined at the hips, the singing-and-dancing Hilton sisters were a popular novelty act in the 1920s and ‘30s. Their unique condition helped make them into movie stars as well, appearing in both Freaks and Chained for Life. And yet, in spite of periods of significant financial success, the twins were never able to enjoy many of the pleasures of a normal life.
Never alone and constantly dependent on each other for even the most basic daily tasks, the Hilton sisters’ story is as much one of constant tribulation as it is occasional triumph. And for a movement-theater group, it presents a number of opportunities for stylistic innovation.
But dancing the part of conjoined twins is no easy task. In order to portray the Hiltons, Braasch and Abbott will be wearing harnesses that connect their costumes. These costumes, while inspired by the fashions of the ‘20s, feature stylistic additions that Braasch refers to as “bizarre twists.” The goal isn’t just to portray the twins’ unique situation, but also to illustrate a larger point.
“We are especially interested in exploring the contrast between how people strive to be normal and strive to be extraordinary,” Braasch explains.
However, the Hilton sisters are not the only characters in this production. Two other, if admittedly abstract, characters also help give the twin’s story a visual context. Meyers will be dancing with a sculpture (created by J. Aaron Alderman) that depicts the many restrictions women use to make themselves seem “normal.” Meanwhile, Oldham presents an even more symbolic piece, which she describes as being about “abstract characters based on ideas and questions.”
In addition to the dance component of the show, Thin Walls includes collaborative input from poet Carlie Ramer, who wrote a series of poems for the performance.
“Collaboration broadens our work,” Braasch says. “It’s exciting to have the inspiration of other artists contributing to dance.”
Abstract concepts and characters aside, there is a real feeling of exploration to Moving Women’s Thin Walls. Far from examining the standard themes, they’ve chosen to explore the ties that bind and the bindings that restrain. Their attention to these topics, particularly from the female perspective, show an ambition that goes beyond the scope of avant-garde theater and into the realm of truly innovative art.
who: Moving Women present Thin Walls: A private glimpse into the tangled and peculiar
what: Dance and movement theater, part of the North Carolina Stage Company’s Catalyst Series
where: North Carolina Stage Company
when: Thursday, March 13, through Saturday, March 22 ($15. www.ncstage.org or 350-9090)