What dreams may come

Despite the beliefs and theories that reach through history, the meaning and purpose of dreaming is still mysterious: Are dreams a side effect of sleeping, the scattered reflections of the subconscious mind, warnings or a visual collage inspired by our hopes and fears?

The unconscious mind in motion: Terpsicorps’ concert of contemporary ballet explores the wild nature of dreaming. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Choreographer Heather Maloy explores the bizarre, unpredictable and sometimes sinister nature of dreams in Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance’s upcoming performance. In preparation for The Dream Project, Maloy, director and founder of the company, asked Asheville residents and friends to contribute ideas for the concert.

“I wanted to research actual people’s dreams, instead of just making a dream-like situation,” says Maloy. After reading through dozens of submissions, a common theme emerged: “People don’t seem to remember their positive dreams. [The project] has warped into ‘the nightmare project’ rather than ‘the dream project’ because those [seem to be the] most memorable, that effect you the most.”

Ashevillean Heather Nelson shared the following (via Terpiscorps’ Facebook page): “I was in an Alice in Wonderland dress, being chased through a beautiful (yet dark) old-growth forest, away from the white rabbit … who had fangs and was vicious.” Intrigued, Maloy and her company decided to stage Nelson’s dream.

“I am looking forward to experiencing the adaptation,” says Nelson, about seeing her nightmare performed by professional dancers. “It was a jarring dream that carried with it all the feelings that I'm sure the symbolism was trying to convey. The dream comes back to me on occasion, and seeing it adapted to the stage may help my subconscious connect those bits of symbolism, and bring resolution to whatever my mind keeps tucked in its folds.”

Michael MacCauley, another Asheville resident, shared a recurring childhood dream (also, interestingly, about running through a forest): “I'm running through the forest at break-neck speed. I'm not sure if I'm chasing something or being chased, but my heart is pounding like mad. The path is always the same, very familiar. The deeper into the woods I go, the more dense it becomes … There is a fallen branch blocking the path, and I think to myself that I have to blindly jump over the branch, or break through it. I decide to break through it, and as I do, I look down at my left arm and see that it is covered in hair, and colored black and orange. Then it hits me, and I shout out, ‘I'm a tiger!’”

MacCauley is thrilled that his dream was chosen. “This was a very memorable part of my childhood, a dream that I had [again and again] until I was about 12 or 13,” he tells Xpress. Familiar with Terpsicorps’ work, MacCauley adds that he has “absolute faith” in the company’s vision, and is looking forward to seeing his tiger-chase dream interpreted in a new way.

The Dream Project will feature 13 dances, ranging from two to 12 minutes each. The company of six embodies a wide range of characters, including a demonic ventriloquist dummy, a wild cast of circus performers, two tigers, Nelson’s vicious white rabbit and a tap-dancing old man.

Courtesy of Terpsicorp

“The experience itself is like having a dream,” says Maloy about the concert as a whole. In addition, the main character or “dreamer” in each piece is clearly distinguished, clad in a nude leotard (with the exception of Nelson’s character, who will wear a blue Alice in Wonderland dress). All other characters represent the colorful fantasies of the dreamer, wearing costumes fashioned by local designer Scott Thompson and seamstress/costumer Leslie Lambrecht.

Local musician Holiday Childress, the lead singer of The Goodies, opens the show by singing a creepy lullaby to his two children, which sets the scene for the performance. Childress returns to the stage throughout, playing dream-inspired songs as the dancers prepare for the next act.

Perhaps the most epic dream starts with a frantic day at the office. Out of nowhere, the devil appears and tries to seduce the dreamer, grabbing at her and chasing her. Illustrating the scene through movement, Maloy choreographed a seductive pas de deux to the music of Tom Waits. Finally, the dreamer screams and pushes the devil away. As the office-scene fades, the dreamer finds herself standing on a long bridge, surrounded by strangers all traveling in the same direction. “She knows she’s on a journey,” says Maloy, “but she doesn’t know where.”

Another piece depicts a person trapped in an elevator as it free-falls down a seemingly endless shaft. To bring this scene to life, the company created a wooden-framed structure with handles hidden on the inside, a prop from which dancer Jennifer Cavanaugh hangs and is thrown from side to side. (Cavanaugh is battered and bruised from rehearsing the piece, Maloy says.) Strobe lights and techno music add to the anxiety.

Working alongside Maloy, Christopher Bandy, a dancer with the company since its founding in 2003, is choreographing three of the pieces: A dream about zombies, a past-life encounter and a dream about tap dancing at a chiropractor’s office. As a dancer, writes Bandy to Xpress, “we train for so many years to be able to dance a certain way, place our heads just so. Then I come [to Asheville and] there is much more freedom. And, Heather has not yet asked me to start over, which I take as a compliment.”

Thought the concert lends itself to creative exploration, the dancers are faced with the challenge of bringing the emotions behind these dreams to life. “It’s an extremely theatrical [production],” Maloy says. “There are so many characters, stories and styles of dancing [involved that] dancers are constantly changing character. [In this way, the concert is] out of the ordinary: It stretches boundaries.”

[Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 114, or at asezakblatt@mountainx.com.]

who: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance
what: The Dream Project
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Thursday, Aug. 12 through Saturday, Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. $30/$28 students and seniors. Info: dwtheatre.com, 257-4530 or terpsicorps.org.

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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