Terpsicorps returns to its RAD roots for outdoor performances

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE: Terpsicorps dancer Michael Caye rehearses for the company's June 25-26 outdoor performances, which will take place on Foundy Street. “It's sort of a fundraiser, gala dinner and dance thing happening in a ‘Mad Max’ urban wasteland environment,” says artistic director Heather Maloy. “It's so Asheville.” Photo by Anita Prentiss

Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance’s upcoming performances at the River Arts District’s Foundation might as well be called “Homecoming Weekend.”

In 2012, the company became the first group to move into the Foundy Street warehouses, which Terpsicorps artistic director Heather Maloy notes were all derelict, many with caved-in roofs. In what’s now the RAD Skatepark, Terpsicorps worked with artists Jeremy Russell and Sean Catinella, entrepreneur Ander Schreiner and others to build out the space. They also cut a deal with local street artists, allowing them to paint whatever they wanted on the exteriors as long as they kept the front of the Terpsicorps building unadorned. These partnerships resulted in a vibrant artistic community, and throughout the two years that the dance company was in the Foundy space, Maloy saw potential in another piece of the property.

“I’ve always looked at that big, huge concrete slab [between Foundy Street and Riverview Station] and gone, ‘I want to do something cool there,’” she says.

Maloy will see that vision realized on Friday, June 25, and Saturday, June 26, when Terpsicorps transforms the space into an outdoor venue.

Unique experience

While the recent lifting of state and local restrictions regarding indoor performance spaces technically allow for such events to occur inside, that wasn’t the case in spring when Maloy and her board of directors had to decide whether to proceed with shows in 2021.

Like many performance arts groups, Terpsicorps canceled its summer 2020 events amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In anticipation of resuming operations, Maloy lined up dancers from across the U.S. and overseas but couldn’t confidently commit to a date without knowing for sure that a health-conscious indoor show was possible. With time running out, inspiration struck.

“A couple of months ago, I was like, ‘Well, let’s just do it outside so that we know that we can do it,” Maloy says. “It’s actually creating a very unique experience. Not only will people feel safe because they’re outside, it’s just going to be totally different than anything we’ve ever done before.”

Adapting to the pandemic-related uncertainty, Maloy chose small pieces that make the most of the six dancers involved while limiting their interactions. She adds that the selections focus on fun and escape rather than gloom and doom, including the world premiere of “Famous Last Words,” created to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and featuring local comedian Tom Chalmers. Maloy is also confident that the program’s lighthearted works will translate well to Terpsicorps’ inaugural family matinee on June 26 — a shorter, less expensive show composed solely of performances that she and her colleagues feel will be entertaining for children.

Sweat equity

In Terpsicorps’ 18 years of operation, Maloy says the company has yet to host an official outdoor performance. But she and the dancers are no strangers to being out in the elements. In summer 2014, after losing their Foundy practice space, Maloy held rehearsals outside at Pack Square Park to raise awareness regarding Terpsicorps’ need for funds. While the intense midday heat and frequent rainstorm interruptions led Maloy to swear that the company “would never do anything like that again,” the Foundy opportunity presents a far more appealing scenario.

“We’re not going to be outside at the peak heat of the day this time, so that’s a plus,” she says. “But we don’t have a covering, which will have its own intricacies.”

Minus its usual indoor venue perks, Terpsicorps also has to build a stage; rent lights, chairs and a sound system; handle ticketing and parking; and coordinate the supper component of the Gala Night on June 26.

“The entire staff [assistance from] the Diana Wortham Theatre that we usually get to utilize, we have to figure that all out on our own,” Maloy says. “It makes you really appreciate how wonderful it is to walk into a theater.”

Despite these novel challenges, Maloy stresses that it’s all worthwhile if it means getting to perform in front of an audience again. Two weeks after the Asheville shows, Terpsicorps will take the outdoor program to Winston-Salem’s Corpening Plaza, and while indoor dance at DWT is the goal for the following season, Maloy is thinking about how different kinds of open-air shows could further the company’s mission.

“I would love for Terpsicorps to have the ability to basically have a theater on the back of a truck and pull into a town, open it up and do performances,” she says. “It’s sort of a dance missionary kind of thing — bringing the arts to people who don’t have access to it.”

WHO: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance
WHERE: Foundy Street, terpsicorps.org
WHEN: Friday, June 25, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 26, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. $12.50-$35


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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