Complicated whimsy

“We’re really just a bunch of big kids about this production,” insists Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre’s Susan Collard during a recent rehearsal of the company’s impending show, Sinbad the Sailor.

In fact, the choreographer and her husband, ACDT co-founder/teacher Giles Collard, have more than a passing personal interest in Sinbad‘s Middle Eastern setting. They lived in Israel for a couple years, where they started a love affair with the culture.

Today, Susan handles Sinbad‘s imported costumes with an intensity bordering on reverence. Spoken dialogue, video projection and swordplay will enhance the dance’s razzle-dazzle quotient — a crucial component of the classic fairy tale.

Also cast: belly dancers, dwarf cannibals and puppets the size of cars.

The seafaring adventurer of the tale’s title is actually a figment of Scheherazade’s imagination. She‘s a clever, beautiful girl who, every night, weaves the story of Sinbad to her oppressive, dominant husband, the Sultan.

The Sultan, a sort of reverse black widow, has the annoying habit of cutting off his wives’ heads after the wedding is consummated. And so quick-thinking Scheherazade saves her own life by appealing to his less base instincts, elevating his intellect with descriptions of her fictional sailor’s perilous escapades. The once fabulously wealthy Sinbad, fleeing both vengeful wives and the bill collector, weathers cruel sea storms, deadly mermaids and all manner of monsters before being rescued in the desert and led to the Valley of Diamonds.

Seduced by Scheherazade’s storytelling, the Sultan lets her live.

Coco Palmer, who plays the young wife, is the sort of dancer who sits with a straight back and walks without making noise — a stoic contrast, in rehearsal mode, to the production’s general air of happy bedlam.

But that impression of Sinbad doesn’t sit well with Palmer. “It’s not chaotic,” the dancer muses in the midst of a painful-looking stretch.

Instead, she decides, “it’s busy … but there is harmony in the busyness.”

Indeed. ACDT dancers and directors may be having the time of their lives realizing this magical, playful production — but they are sweating out the rehearsals, as well. It’s a rugged piece.

As for the obvious encroachment of current events on what’s being tailored as a fun, family show, Collard quickly objects: “It’s not political.”

Then she adds: “But it is difficult to choreograph the [characters of] Middle Eastern women without exposing their restrictions.”

[Abigail Batton recently moved to Asheville from London.]

Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre presents Sinbad the Sailor at Pack Place’s Diana Wortham Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 16. Admission is $15/adults, $13/seniors, $10/children and students. For reservations and more information, call 257-4530.

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