Americans like to quibble. Just look at the divisive rhetoric still floating around from November’s presidential election. Fighting words from both the political left and right “left our country splintered,” says Heather Malloy, artistic director of Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance. “It left us feeling hopeless.” And while some argue that there is no easy way to mend what’s been broken, Malloy sees a simple solution: dance.
“We need to bring people together through experiences,” says Malloy. “They need to have moments of empathy together.” Compassion, and possibly shared frustration, is the basis of Together We Stand, a series of dance performances onstage at the Diana Wortham Theatre Thursday-Saturday, June 22-24.
The Associated Press called it at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 9: Presidential candidate Donald Trump had defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Pushback from women’s rights group promptly ensued, including the Women’s March on Washington (and other cities around the globe) in January.
There was a quieter, more private outcry as well. Malloy, for instance, remembers watching her middle and high school dancers fall apart at the news. “The possibility [of having a female president] was just pulled right out from beneath them,” she says.
Despite being young, they could already sense the looming glass ceiling and the universal struggle to shatter it. “Being a female choreographer is hard,” says Malloy. “No one realizes the struggle to make it.” Malloy’s firsthand experience in a man’s world inspired the night’s first piece, “Run Ragged.” It’s heavy, but the choreography isn’t crestfallen. Instead, Terpsicorps dancer Elena Bello keeps things light with whimsical, albeit frantic, movement.
“She’s basically dancing in fast motion during the whole piece while some guys in the back are acting like robots,” says Malloy. In other words, the woman is working twice as hard to get from point A to point B — an analogy for all the institutional barriers women face.
Salvatore Aiello’s “The Waiting Room” touches on the topic of health care. In this piece, three women seek support and face-to-face connection as they wait on life-threatening test results. Though Aiello choreographed the dance to process his own struggle with HIV, it carries relevance today — especially in light of the GOP’s proposals to change or altogether nullify the Affordable Care Act. “In looking at the country right now, health care is a legitimate point of concern,” says Malloy.
So is income inequality. According to Malloy, dance classes are seen as dispensable for children living under the poverty line. Sometimes parents can’t afford basic necessities — groceries, utilities, rent — much less tap shoes or lessons.
To mitigate some of those barriers to the arts, Terpsicorps will be offering free classes throughout the summer at Hillcrest Community Center, Burton Street Community Center and West Asheville Community Center. The courses are all-inclusive for kids ages 4-18, meaning auditioning and pricey gear isn’t required. Headed by Isabel Jenkins and Melissa Wilhoit, both outreach coordinators with the Academy at Terpsicorps, this initiative complements master classes that are currently being taught in middle and high schools. It also furthers an existing scholarship program that students can access during the school year.
Wilhoit says that dance helps children feel confident in their ability to express themselves. “In the classes … they have the opportunity to create their own movement vocabulary as well as learn traditional, codified steps,” she says. Once students learn the structured choreography, they can then elect to perform in the Diana Wortham Theatre production for the show’s titular piece, “Together We Stand.” The debut of the student dancers will be set to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” performed by local vocalists Stephanie Morgan and Leeda Jones, aka Lyric.
The hope for the performance is to “bring kids together from varying backgrounds and represent the fullness of our community,” Malloy says.
WHAT: Together We Stand
WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, 18 Biltmore Ave., terpsicorps.org
WHEN: Thursday, June 22, to Saturday, June 24, 8 p.m. $20-$40