More than four decades later, contemporary dance theater in Asheville is still experimental

Susan Collard was only 25 when she started her dance school in Asheville. It was 53 years ago.

“I love it. I mean, I could be sitting at home knitting,” she said during a Thursday night rehearsal of the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theater, at the BeBe Theatre. “I don’t want to do this. It’s more fun.

Collard and her husband, Giles, a former dance student and now co-director of the company, watch four dancers work in solos and duets. It is in preparation for the (Re)eventa one-day festival designed to honor the experimental philosophy of Black Mountain College.

The invitation to perform is a testament and tribute to Collard that his company, more than four decades after its founding, is still producing experimental work. The company performs around 8 p.m. towards the end of the April 2 festival at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain.

“The piece is about boundaries, and I feel like boundaries aren’t necessary. They’re negative,” she said, then pointed to the company’s new dancer, Angela Gorman.

“But Angela was saying tonight, ‘No, boundaries and borders aren’t always bad. Sometimes they help people get their lives back. Yeah, maybe that’s true,'” Collard said. so that from different angles.”

Collard said the pandemic had hit his business like a brick, halting the launch of a new community dance festival two days before technical rehearsals. But Giles Collard said they and most of their dancers barely missed a step.

“In mid-April we were already performing well,” he said. “We played every Sunday all over Asheville, outdoors for free. We did an incredible job. We danced in factories, on train tracks, public or not public.

After classes were cancelled, Giles Collard, said 80% of those enrolled had paid their tuition to help the business. Once health guidelines allowed them to go indoors, the company worked on solos for video streaming at distant festivals and also presented children’s shows. Federal support for small businesses was a financial lifeline.

When classes resumed, the Collards limited the dance floor to six students at a time, for distancing protocols. They loved the privacy so much that they have continued with this limit to this day, despite the impact on their income.

“I mean, if it was about the money, we wouldn’t be doing this, right?” said Susan Collard. “We are a small business. We can operate with few means. No one is salaried. Giles and I are not paid.

“We paid rent and utilities for two years without any income,” added Giles Collard.

The Collards then have their creative focus on a summer production inspired by black French artist Josephine Baker, played by longtime society member Sharon Cooper.

Colleen D. Ervin