Fringe Festival Preview: Social Urgency Behind Solo Dance Works

Jan 17, 2019

NOTE: This is the second of two stories previewing the 2019 Asheville Fringe Festival.

Vanessa Owen and Gavin Stewart met on the dance floor seven years ago and have danced together and separately ever since. In crafting their new collaboration, they wanted to comment on the country’s immigration debate.

The new work is called “Vessel,” and Owen dances it alone.

Vanessa Owen performs in the new solo dance work "Vessel."
Credit Courtesy of the artists

  “It’s an exploration of humanity under the lens of immigration,” Owen said.

“The most important thing for us is this about humanity,” Stewart added. “That’s the value of the piece.”

Stewart composed the music, the pair teamed up to create the movement and they’re connecting the music and dance to a recording of an interview they conducted in Asheville with a child of undocumented parents.

“I guess our goal is to create this visceral reaction,” Stewart said.

“We’ve talked a lot about not trying to find an answer to a problem or trying to find a right or wrong, and really trying to avoid identity politics or anything that’s divisive.” Owen said. “Instead, we’re sorta trying to shed light on a human experience.”

“Vessel” is part of a triple-feature at the Mothlight in West Asheville. Performances are 7 pm Jan. 24 and 25.

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Todd Weakley (pictured) and the Cardboard Sea are performing "Psyche" during the Asheville Fringe Festival.
Credit Courtesy of the artists

Another show on the triple bill is “Psyche,” from a local collaborative called Cardboard Sea. “Psyche” is an exploration of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which originated in the second century as a tale about overcoming obstacles to love.

“This particular myth is kind of unwieldy. It’s all over the map,” said Todd Weakley, a high school theater teacher in Hendersonville who helped found the Cardboard Sea.

“As far as this production is concerned, I think what we’ve landed on is a piece that has deconstructed that myth and hopefully posing the question ‘What role does myth play in our lives today?’” Weakley said.

The Mothlight won’t stop its role as a bar while serving as a Fringe Festival venue, but Weakley said his company is thriving on the challenge of creating a show that works with clinking glasses and other bar sounds.

“Part of what the Cardboard Sea is trying to do is look at what makes theater theater,” he said “I also have played a lot of music in my life in punk venues, and so I’ve always approached making theater with that same sort of vision, that idea of ‘Let’s just go in here and make a mess and we’ll sort it out while doing it.’”

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Turning back to dance, Sharon Cooper has updated her solo work titled “Hands Up,” which was born from the Black Lives Matter movement.

What began as a heated physical response to the shootings by police of unarmed black men has evolved into a comment on incidents that often don’t make headlines.

“It was inspired by just all these incidents where people are having police called on them for barbecuing or drinking water or playing golf too slow,” said Cooper, a full-time nurse, single mother and longtime member of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre.

“(It’s) just little things that people seemed quick to call police just for living your life, because of your skin color,” Cooper added about her motivation.

Performances of “Hands Up” happen outside the RAMP Warehouse studios on Riverside Drive, and Cooper said the outdoor lends an intimate and emotional impact to this work.

“Fringe is so much about pushing boundaries and pushing limits and maybe exploring topics that make people uncomfortable or make people think a little,” she said. “Not that you can’t do that in theater, but I think in theater, a lot of times people come expecting more to be entertained and not so much a message or experience.”

“Hands Up” is one of the stops along the Lazoom Bus Tour that starts at 7pm Jan. 25 and 26 and 4pm Jan. 27.