Arts Performing Arts

ACDT Performs with Guerilla Barnstorming

ACDT Guerilla Barnstorming

Barnstorming dance at steel cutting plant in Weaverville. Dancer, Rebekah Purdom. Photos by Joe Karpen

Since Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre (ACDT) closed in late April due to COVID-19, the company’s members have found a unique way to perform. Every Sunday at 5 p.m., five to nine dancers meet in an outdoor location to create new dance while remaining socially distant. The project has evolved into what participants now call Guerilla Barnstorming.

“When the pandemic forced the cancellation of 27 scheduled performances, we decided not to give up,” says ACDT founder and director Susan Collard. “We do not need an audience, we just need the space, the inspiration and each other.”

ACDT Guerilla Barnstorming

ACDT dancer Kathy Leiner. Photo by Joe Karpen.

The group has performed in gardens, rivers, creeks, on railroad tracks and in the streets of Asheville. Collard typically designates the site and sets up the structure for the improv. Because the troupe does not announce their performance, spectators are often absent. The site and the weather set the mood so that each dance is different. Performances take place rain or shine, with weather viewed as an inspiration rather than a limiting factor. Collard cites a performance knee-deep in a creek during a rainstorm as a particularly beautiful experience. “I love the way each dancer can move differently in the changing settings,” she says. “Nothing is choreographed and everything is in the moment and personal.”

Dancer Melissa Wilhoit describes the barnstorming experience as “a lifesaver.” Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, she was teaching 16 classes per week and rehearsing for an upcoming performance. Grinding to a halt, she says, was difficult both physically and emotionally. “After months of staying home and dancing alone or as part of an online class, it has been so wonderful to move outside and create in the community again,” she says.

The experience has encouraged her to let inspiration initiate her movement. “It is exciting to approach the challenge of improvisation with openness and deep listening in the moment,” she says.

ACDT co-director Giles Collard finds the project’s unusual settings to be especially fulfilling, as he engages all of his senses so that he is attuned to the surface he dances on, the temperature, wind, rain, architecture, vegetation, wildlife, sounds and other humans.

“Barnstorming allows me to have a wonderful time dancing in amazingly rich spaces,” he says. “There are no worries, no planning, no production costs and no audience needed.”

For information about upcoming performances, email

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