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Ann Dunn, nearly 76, creates meditation on opacity and transparency for Asheville Ballet’s season opener

Ann Dunn in her North Asheville home.
Matt Peiken | BPR News
Ann Dunn in her North Asheville home.

At a recent rehearsal in the Woodfin studio of the Asheville Ballet, beneath dim lighting, three people are moving to the music—a man and woman on the black marley floor and, watching from several feet away, Ann Dunn, who's about to turn 76. She’s seated on a chair with wheels, moving her arms to the choreography she set on her two dancers—former students who are now professionals.

“There you go,” Dunn tells her dancers. “Slide and arch and kick and swing and spin …”

The following day, from her home in North Asheville, Dunn said she would have been on her feet during the rehearsal if she weren’t still recovering from a hip replacement—her second.

“I healed faster the first time. I was back teaching in person at UNC-Asheville in three weeks after the hip replacement,” she said. “The other thing is Covid. I’ve been sitting in this chair teaching through Zoom to my students at UNCA for 2½ years, so being immobile during that time had an impact on slowing the healing process a little bit.”

Dunn’s in her 26th year of teaching humanities courses at the university and it’s been 41 years since she first helmed the Asheville Ballet. She choreographed two pieces for the company’s Sept. 9 performance in Pack Square and Sept. 10 at the Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure.

“When I was in the very early days of choreography, I would make movement on myself and then transpose it to other dancers. But now I’m much more interested in making movement specific to the dancers I’m working with,” she said. “It’s very much richer. As you mature as an artist, you want to deepen your relationship with the artform.”

Dunn grew up immersed in the arts and attended New York University while studying on a full scholarship at New York City Ballet. As a young adult, she was resolute about carving a life filled with dance, children and education. Dunn has also written four books of poetry.

In making work for the upcoming Asheville Ballet program, Dunn drew inspiration from two artists—sculptor Leo Amino and dancer and textile artist Elizabeth Jennerjahn, both with ties to Black Mountain College.

“I’ve tried to create a meditation on opacity and transparency,” she said. “And from a personal point of view—whether the audience gets this or not, it really doesn’t make any difference at all—I was thinking about the ways we present ourselves, the surface selves we present, and the hidden self that often we don’t see.”

Dunn said the grand, large-scale works that were once so central to Asheville Ballet programs no longer hold much interest for her.

“If I have to do two Tchaikovsky pieces in one year, I think I’m going to lose my mind,” she said. “It’s not creative to restage ‘Swan Lake.’ I like pushing my boundaries.”

Pushing her boundaries also extends to Dunn’s approach to curating her programs.

“Whether I’m choreographing myself or not, as long as I can produce other people’s work and make that possible for them, that’s really cool,” she said. “It’s not like you give up something and do something else. It’s the way life sort of morphs along from one thing to another or expands.”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.