Performing in the key of pink

Electric, without electricity: Mural artist Molly Rose Freeman, dancer Garth Grimball and composer Michael Libramento will create an outdoor, public performance along the river. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Molly Rose Freeman’s large-scale artwork is fanciful. It’s architectural.  It’s intricate. It’s …. pink. And it’s on view this month in the River Arts District, alfresco, along Riverside Drive across from the Cotton Mill Studios.

Every day that the weather allows, Freeman is defining the space for a multimedia production called the Asheville Rites Project, an original dance and music event to be presented free to the public on May 21. 

Freeman’s contribution to Rites is a performance in itself, which anyone can attend by just driving down Riverside Drive on a sunny day. Passers by may see Freeman on her ladder, putting the finishing touches on the tall panels that will provide a backdrop to the production.

In the open space along the French Broad River, which Riverlink has designated as a performance and sculpture plaza, her huge fantasy flowers and geometric shapes glow against the greenery. Each day something new appears:  a petal, a cube, a swash of red. Her geometric flights of fancy also adorn the walls of her studio in the Roots building on West Haywood Street, in murals stretching from corner to corner and climbing toward the ceiling. Freeman’s work was also featured last December at Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual city-wide contemporary art exhibition.

For the Rites project, Freeman has teamed her talent in the visual arts with that of dancer/choreographer Garth Grimball and musician/composer Michael Libramento. Grimball has danced with the Asheville Ballet for five seasons, and in 2010 choreographed the full-length ballet Secrets, which was performed at the North Carolina Stage Company. 

Freeman and Grimball developed the Rites concept together. “I was thinking a lot about the politics of space, and wanted to create a performance that would not be in a traditional theater venue, and would also be free — to make dance more accessible and inclusive,” Grimball says. 

Inspired by the NYC Ballet’s film of Jerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz, performed outdoors in various locations throughout New York City, Grimball imagined a similar experience in Asheville, “with dance, music and visual arts outside, working together to create a greater aesthetic.” His original choreography for the Rites five-part ballet is a fusion of modern and jazz dance, and will be performed by 10 dancers from studios throughout Asheville.

“With the last element, the music, we definitely knew we wanted Libramento,” Grimball says. Libramento is a vastly talented multi-instrumentalist who tours, records and performs with a variety of groups, both local and national. Recently he’s been traveling with indie-pop outfit Floating Action in support of its newest recording, Desert Etiquette.

Libramento is excited about the challenges of composing for the Rites Project: “The performance will not use electricity, which creates a unique opportunity to use drums and percussion as the main voices.” His inspirations for the work are spring and the river, as well as his ongoing fascination with Latin and African influences “from American jazz to traditional Cuban music to Congolese rhumba.”

Like Freeman’s flowers and streaming shapes, the collaborative work as a whole will be passionate, lively and complex, but unpretentious.  “We wanted a project where life and art are inseparable,” Freeman says. “It’s not just me painting … it’s the cars that drive by and honk; it’s the bugs that fly into the canvas and get painted in.” 

It’s also the dancers gracefully adapting to the uneven concrete on what was once the floor of an auto repair shop, and the musicians playing in the acoustic wonderland of the outdoors, letting the sound go where it will.
      Says Freeman: “It’s just another way to integrate art into the everyday landscape of Asheville.”

— Lynn Smith Stanley can be reached at

what: The Asheville Rites Project
what: Public performance in the River Arts District, featuring a mural by Molly Rose Freeman, original choreography by Garth Grimball and a score composed by Michael Libramento. RITES is a tribute to Springtime and a celebration of the vibrancy and freshness that come with the season. The performance is right on the banks of the French Broad River, in an outdoor space across from Cotton Mill Studios. Gates open an hour before showtime; bring chairs or blankets.
where: Riverlink Sculpture and Performance Plaza, 117 Riverside Drive
when: Saturday, May 21 (7 p.m. or

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