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Trillium Arts Hosts Dance, Film Project to Honor the Noble Barn Owl

This year, as part of the Asheville/Chicago Exchange Fellowship in Dance, Trillium Arts will host a residency for choreographer Xavier Nuñez, film director Tim Whalen and two dancers with the Joffrey Ballet Chicago. Together, this creative team is working on the second installment of Mates for Life, a performing arts film series focused on the natural phenomenon of species that mate for life. The first installment of the series was inspired by whooping cranes, and this second iteration is about barn owls, a fierce avian predator that can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

Tim Whalen, artist

Whalen endeavors to choose film subjects that are beautiful and inspire dance movement, and also ones that are in need of conservation attention. The barn owl, while not endangered, has experienced dramatic loss of habitat in Western North Carolina. “The barn owl was chosen for its uniqueness and tie to its habitat, which is in need of conservation,” says Whalen. “By using film as the medium, we are able to take people to the ballet and to nature, with the goal of inspiring them to check out either or both in the future, keeping the arts alive and doing their part to have a healthy planet.”

Trillium Arts is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary artist residency center located in Mars Hill that was co-founded by husband-and-wife team Phil Reynolds and Heather Hartley. “Trillium Arts is particularly interested in supporting artists and projects that heighten awareness of environmental concerns and increase opportunities for audiences to elevate their appreciation for the stunning natural beauty and rich culture of Southern Appalachia,” says Hartley. “The project’s goal is to engage both supporters of dance and conservation, resulting in heightened awareness and support for both causes.”

Rehearsals for Mates for Life: Barn Owl will take place at The Red Barn Studio, an 80-year-old tobacco and hay barn at Odonata Farm. “There could be no more authentic, inspiring space to begin creating choreography for a dance film about barn owls,” says Hartley. “It’s truly a magical space that reverberates with WNC history and houses cutting-edge contemporary art making.”

Whalen was not able to attend the rehearsals for the whooping crane installment of Mates for Life, so his presence during rehearsals at The Red Barn Studio will provide a new level of collaboration between director and choreographer. “We get to be in the studio together and we can see if each step is going to work well for the shot he had in mind,” says Nuñez. “I’m hoping, in turn, I can influence the way he films the piece. It’s definitely give and take, push and pull between the two of us.”

Nuñez says that much of his choreography process happens in the studio, which will be especially meaningful during this fellowship. “Just being engulfed by nature in a setting that a barn owl would live in, I think it’s going to reflect what I put into the choreography and what the dancers put into it,” he says.

On Saturday, July 27, from 4–7 p.m., Trillium Arts will host Taking Flight, an opportunity to see an open rehearsal of the barn owl choreography and view a screening of Mates for Life: Whooping Crane. There will also be a guest appearance by Orion, a barn owl in the care of interpretive naturalist Carlton S. Burke. The event, which is a benefit for Trillium Arts, will take place at The Red Barn Studio.

The Red Barn Studio at Odonata Farm is located at 5640 Paint Fork Road, Mars Hill. Learn more and buy tickets to Taking Flight at

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