Dance dance evolution

Photo by Zaire Kacz

The spark for Reborn came by way of a number of sources, from a bag of pantyhose to a photography series to the birth of Heather Maloy’s son.

But Maloy, artistic director of Asheville’s Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance, says that she doesn’t set out to collaborate with artists of various media when she’s creating a dance performance. “But if I see something that sparks an idea, it’s the same thing as when I do a full-length based on a piece of literature,” she says. Her untraditional retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in dance, is an example. “When I’m reading something, it just takes one image within it, and I think, ‘That may be what I want to do.’”

Rebirth, reuse, recycle

So about those stockings: Immediately following the 2011 Terpsicorps production Vampyre, Maloy flew to Southern California to take part in the National Choreographer’s Initiative — a program that chooses four choreographers from around the U.S. and gives them an opportunity to workshop new ideas with a group of dancers. “All I had was a garbage bag full of burgundy panty hose, and I didn’t know what I going to do with them,” she says.

Maloy and her husband had discovered the stockings, probably from the ‘80s, in an abandoned building, and she figured she could do something with them. In Southern California, she turned the pantyhose into “a giant stretchy quilt that the dancers could come in and out of. It looks like an amorphous, living thing on stage.”

In Reborn, the pantyhose quilt is re-envisioned. It begins as the dress of an aging character and later morphs into a womb from which a baby is born.

Pantyhose are not the only upcycled item in the production. As the name suggests, reuse is a theme throughout. “It was a choreographic exercise for me, that I couldn’t use anything that hadn’t already been used for something else,” says Maloy. Repurposed architectural items find their way on stage, and the rule for fabric was that it had to have been pre-used, already on hand or purchased from Goodwill.

Paper gets recycled, too: Local fashion designer R. Brooke Priddy is creating costumes from the pages of romance novels scored from thrift shops, that the dancers will tear off of each other. (Counting the number of paper costumes needed for rehearsals, in addition to the staged production, Maloy half-jokes that those bodice-ripper books will account for the dance company’s largest expense.)

Outside insights

The idea for the paper apparel came from The Reborn Series, a collection of images of Terpsicorps dancers by Venezuelan-born photographer Zaire Kacz. But it was the dancers, who in turn, inspired Kacz, a relatively recent transplant to Asheville. Her background was in commercial photography, wedding and portraits. While living in Miami, she focused on fashion photography. “When I moved to Asheville, I never thought I’d do fashion here, but the door opened for me,” she says.

She applied her fashion photographer’s eye to her collection of fine art shots of the graceful and muscular dancers’ forms. “I told them the idea that I had and how I wanted to use the paper,” says Kacz. That material, in the photos, serves as prop, as clothing and as gesture. “When they brought what they thought, with the movement, I was totally delighted. The way they did their own interpretation was something I connected with. It was inspiring,” Kacz says. The photographer named the series “reborn” because it represents, for her a new direction and one she’d like to continue to explore in the future.

Photos from The Reborn Series will be on display in the lobby of the Diana Wortham Theatre during Terpsicorps’ three-night run.

Since the June 2003 inception of her dance company, Maloy has shown herself to be an innovator. Terpsicorps produces first-rate shows by hiring principal dancers who are laid off over the summer by other professional companies. This year’s cast includes eight company dancers and seven apprentices. Maloy says that the slow economy has led to fewer full-time dance agencies, and many that have not shuttered have downsized. “There are great professional dancers who made the decision to only do pickup companies, because there are more and more companies like Terpsicorps out there,” she says. This could mean future winter productions by Terpsicorps, and more opportunities for Maloy to tap other local artists for collaborations.

Past joint efforts include The Many Deaths of Edward Gorey, with vocals and acting by Holiday Childress and live art by Ben Betsalel; the all-male Elvis & Other Men also had vocals by Childress along with the now-defunct folk-rock quartet Menage; The Recession Blues & Other Works took cues from the economic downturn in ’09 and featured Firecracker Jazz Band; gothic Vampyre drew from the haunted tales of Mary Shelley and John Polidori and included hair styling by Adorn Salon.

And there were more: Hurricane & Other Forces of Nature was inspired by a Godspeed You! Black Emperor soundtrack and weather patterns; Masque of the Red Death drew from Edgar Allan Poe and comic books.

Baby steps

Over the last decade, Maloy has consistently surprised and enthralled audiences with her modern and edgy choreography. In fact, this year marks the local dance organization’s 10-year anniversary, a milestone which certainly informs Reborn. But an even bigger inspiration is the company’s smallest contributor: Maloy’s infant son, Zane.

Choreographing the baby section of Reborn has been really fun, the artistic director says, because Zane sits in front of the room. “We copy his movements,” she explains. And, although Maloy’s life has changed significantly over the past year, she’s continued to cull art from personal experiences. “Usually I have the concept for my piece by December or so. I knew I wanted to so something around the life cycle, but as far as what that was, it came way more slowly,” she says. Once the program’s various influences came into focus, the choreography quickly followed.

Also part of the show is a world premiere of “Yin Yang” by Christopher Bandy, who’s been part of Terpsicorps since its start. For the last three years he’s served as ballet master. “He’s a wonderful choreographer, and I knew he would be because his dancing is so theatrical and creative,” says Maloy. Bandy is collaborating with Michael Bellar (a New York-based musician and founder, composer and keyboardist of The As-Is Ensemble) who has worked with Terpsicorps many times in the past.

Moving forward, both Kacz and Maloy already have new ideas; both are inspired by the rebirths of their respective artforms. “You learn things about yourself that you don’t know,” says Maloy of tapping the personal for creative insight. “I’ve choreographed pieces before that I thought were about nothing, and then I sat book and looked at them and I could totally see things I was going through at the time, expressed in the choreography. “

With Reborn, she says it’s based on her own experiences, but by touching on the many phases of being human, “I don’t want it to feel like one person’s life cycle, I want it to represent the life cycle in general,” she says. And even though the birth in Reborn is that of a child, Maloy says that regeneration could symbolize any creative process.

Kacz adds, “It’s not just the story of one person, it’s the story of all of us.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

what: Terpsicorps performs Reborn
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Thursday-Saturday, June 27-29 (8 p.m., $30/$25/$20/$12. Special gala night tickets for Thursday are $75 and include a pre-show Champagne toast, backstage tour, VIP tickets and afterparty at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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