From the colonial period to the modern era, America's history tells an evolving narrative of human migration. Inspired by this history, Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre/White Dog ProjectX International explores the dynamic topic of immigration in the upcoming modern dance concert Travelogue: Stories of our Migration.
"We all come from immigrant backgrounds in this country, mostly, and people seem to forget about that. [Travelogue] is a celebration of this common history and we hope that it will inspire the audience to ask, 'Where did my family come from and how did they get here?'" explains Susan Collard, artistic director and founder of the company. "We don't want the concert to be obviously political, we are more interested in the interpersonal struggles and stories of our past."
Using techniques of modern, contemporary and Irish/European folk-dance, Travelogue consists of three 20-minute pieces that examine immigration across a wide spectrum of time, focusing on both historic events, on contemporary issues and more abstract concepts of identity and self-discovery.
"Ellis Island: New York, New York," choreographed by Susan in collaboration with members of her dance company, returns to the federal immigration station where more than 12 million people passed through between 1892 and 1954. Set in the late 1800s, Susan's work is composed of short vignettes featuring solos, duets and a group piece that creates a dynamic portrait of the people who traveled through Ellis Island from Central and Eastern Europe, Britain and Ireland.
"There is the Hasidic Jew [a sketch choreographed by Giles Collard, codirector of the company], there are the women of the Balkans [choreographed by Jenni Cockrell, ACDT dancer] and there are the Irish," a piece choreographed by Joe Mohar, who will perform an Irish folk dance/jig accompanied by Laurie Fisher playing the fiddle.
"We also have a woman who is waiting for her lover," continues Susan, "and we have a man who is waiting, waiting, waiting throughout the entire piece. It has a lot to do with separation and reunions." Together, these vignettes hope to breath life into history, exposing both the hardship and joy experienced by the travelers hailing from ports across the globe. Clad in period costumes, dancers tote suitcases that remind the audience that most immigrants arrived in the U.S. carrying all their belongings on their back.
The second piece in the show, "Welcome to the U.S.," choreographed by Cuban dancers Nelson Reyes and Diana Cabrera, takes a humorous look at the process of acclimating to life in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language, adjusting to cultural differences in body language, gestures and physical expression where hurdles that both Reyes and Cabrera confronted when adapting to life in the States. Set in a classroom, donning crowns modeled after the one perched atop the statue of liberty, Reyes and Cabrera use humor to convey the many challenges of relocating.
Thierry Ramond, a Vietnamese and French dancer/choreographer working in collaboration with ACDT dancers, presents an abstract piece titled "Nomad." "Ramond knows the subject and loves the subject," tells Giles. "His personal story is powerful. As a Vietnamese refugee, he was forced to leave Cambodia as a child [because of] ethnic cleansing. Because his grandfather was a French legionary, he was relocated to France as a child." As Ramond's piece unfolds, philosophical questions are presented to the audience like paintings. Set against large frames placed on the stage, dancers explore cultural influences on identity, of Diaspora communities and of self-exploration. "The soul of the traveler, with each of his steps in the spiral of time, plays with the union of his presence, with landscapes and encounters," writes Ramond, describing the thoughts that propelled the creation of "Nomad."
In between each dance, a short interview filmed by local videographer William Towers will be screened. In these interviews Ramond, a Native American and an African American will share their thoughts on issues of immigration and migration in hopes of complementing the themes explored through dance with personal, oral stories.
"This concert has brought up some phenomenal stories for us personally," says Giles. "We're finding out so much about people we have known for years." Adds Susan, "sharing these stories brings us closer together." Travelogue aspires both to entertain and to have a unifying effect on the community, celebrating the diversity of a nation shaped by immigration.
who: Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre
what: Travelogue: Stories of our Migration
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Friday, Dec. 4 and Saturday, Dec. 5 ($25/$20 students and seniors. Saturday's performance will feature an international food and drink sampling at the theatre before the show. $50 combined ticket for the event and performance. ACDT at 254-2621, 257-4530 or dwtheatre.com).