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For three weeks every summer, Motion Dance Theatre transforms the city of Asheville into an artistic destination for dancers, dance makers, and dance lovers alike. This season, nine dancers from six different regional ballet companies will join Motion’s Artistic Director and Founder, Nick Kepley, for a choreographic exploration and the opportunity to inspire the local community.

MDT dancers; Photo by Parker J. Pfister

MDT dancers; Photo by Parker J. Pfister

On Stage

Self-described as “a labor of love,” Kepley explains that Motion is a vehicle for artistic development and excellence. “I’m interested in identifying artists who want to explore and stretch themselves,” says Kepley. “And I’m interested in developing an audience base that is hungry for dance and acknowledges that dance is a vital and relevant contemporary art form.”

What does Kepley have up his sleeve for this summer?

He’s bumped up the roster by three dancers in order to restage one of his first major works, THRACE, which was originally created for the Kansas City Ballet’s In the Wings choreographic workshop. “[The ballet] is a response and representation to what women and all those who find themselves left behind during times of war,” explains Kepley. It’s meant to be a thought-provoking piece that, according to Kepley, delves into “the pain inside and the toughness it takes to push through that and get on with your life.”

With more dancers on board, Kepley brainstormed ways to maximize his modest budget. So, he decided to bring on two dancers who were also emerging choreographers; serving a dual role this season, Adrian Fry (Ballet West) and Travis Guerin (Kansas City Ballet) join as dancers and guest choreographers.

Earlier in his career, Fry didn’t have aspirations to choreograph. However, as he’s matured as an artist, an interest to develop more skills within the industry has intensified. “I really like the process of overseeing an entire vision, being able to share feelings, moods and themes through dance,” says Fry in regards to choreographing.  He also enjoys collaborating with other artistic disciplines—something he will get the chance to explore further this summer, as his friend is composing original music for his ballet.

Also new this season, Motion is collaborating with the Asheville Lyric Opera on a production of Carousel. “This sort of came out of the blue,” says Kepley. It’s a special treat for Kepley, who is well versed in both the professional ballet and musical theater worlds. “Any chance I get to combine my training in musical theatre and ballet, I’m all about it.” He’ll be staging the opening sequence and Louise’s Act II ballet.

MDT dancer Adam Still; Photo by Parker J. Pfister

MDT dancer Adam Still; Photo by Parker J. Pfister

Big advancements for a small company

Things can get overwhelming with a one-man operation—Kepley handles most of the administrative and artistic roles including marketing, public relations, sales, development, and artistic direction. So, he’s thankful for the Motion dancers who help keep the ball rolling year after year as well as his mother, Dianne Kepley, Motion’s “unsung hero” who fills the Executive Director role.

Angelina Sansone (Kansas City Ballet), who has been involved with Motion since its inception, danced with Kepley for several seasons in Kansas City. Instant friends, Sansone says that she and Kepley also “developed great respect for each other as artists.” After performing in THRACE, she realized the potential and Kepley’s vision as a choreographer and decided she wanted to help him build Motion.

In Asheville, she assists Kepley with rehearsals and teaches company class. The Southern city has become her home away from home and she’s thrilled for another season of inspiring collaboration and creative discovery—Sansone is particularly excited to perform THRACE again, acknowledging how restaging the ballet “will really showcase the growth of the company” and bring the whole journey “full circle.”

In regards to Motion’s growth, it’s biggest upward step came earlier this year when it received its official 501(c)3 nonprofit status. “We are a true, stand-alone non-profit company [now],” says Kepley excitedly. This season also marked the formation of Motion’s first board of directors. All of these  effort puts Motion is an exciting position—with more ‘man power,’ the company can continue to prosper and fulfill its mission for years to come.

Making an impact

For Kepley, the work doesn’t end on stage. Rather, Motion’s mission extends into the community of Asheville and Western North Carolina, educating locals on the relevance of dance, creativity, and the very artists that inspire both. “[Artists] bring much more [to society] than just what happens on stage,” he says. “I think we tend to undervalue ourselves as artists, taking how creative we are, our ability to think outside the box, and present all kinds of imaginative and novel solutions to problems for granted.”

During the residency, Motion offers a number of ways for community members and business leaders to be engaged first-hand with the company, including attending rehearsals, holding public forums on the creative process through the Asheville Arts Council and Black Mountain College Museum, and master classes and workshops—Kepley has a long-standing relationship with the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville and Center Stage Dance Studio. He says, “Support from these institutions has been absolutely critical to our success.” In regards to the city, Sansone adds, “I don’t think we could have found a more inspiring, inviting, or relaxing place to call [Motion’s] home.”

See Motion in action

Learn more about Motion Dance Theatre on its website or by following the company on Facebook and Twitter.

The company nestles into the mountains of Western Carolina from June 24 – July 14. To purchase tickets for either Motion’s repertoire show or performances of Carousel with the Opera, call the Diana Wortham Theatre box office at 828-257-4530 or visit www.dwtheatre.com.

Written by Stephanie Wolf

Stephanie Wolf

An Atlanta native, Stephanie Wolf has performed professionally with the Minnesota Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, and Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado). She has a BA in Liberal Studies from St. Mary’s College of California. Her writing has been published in national and regional media outlets, including Dance Informa, Indianapolis Star, and the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Currently, Stephanie lives in Denver, where she is a public radio producer and reporter. She loves bluegrass, cooking, Netflix, and owls.