Working with siblings is always tricky. For many, it either goes very right (HAIM, the Coen brothers) or exceptionally wrong (Oasis, the Andrews Sisters). Judging from past performances, choreographer Ephrat Asherie and her brother, jazz pianist Ehud Asherie, have landed in the former category for the second time with Odeon, a high-energy 2018 work that will open June 9 at Spoleto Festival USA.
Ephrat Asherie, the artistic director of Ephrat Asherie Dance company, was first introduced to African-American and Latinx vernacular dance by listening to hip-hop music in the 1980s and ’90s. From there, she became involved in the breaking scene through her mentor Richard Santiago, better known by his B-boy name, “Break Easy,” and was also introduced to the house scene in New York City.
“The underground dance scene in New York has always been my dance family, but it’s always been really important to me to find points of intersection with my dance family and my blood family,” Asherie said. “My brother and I had worked together in 2016, and it went well, which we were kind of surprised at — you never know about working with siblings.”
It was a jazz performance by Ehud Asherie that introduced his sister to the multifaceted works of Ernesto Júlio de Nazareth. That music would become the soundtrack for Odeon, for which Ehud serves as musical director. (The Spoleto mounting will feature six dancers and four live musicians.)
Nazareth was a Brazilian composer active at the turn of the 19th century. His works pull from many musical styles, including traditional Brazilian rhythms, Afro-Brazilian rhythms, classical European melodies and romantic European music.
Similarly, Ephrat Asherie’s choreography pulls from breaking, whacking, vogue, Latin hustle, Brazilian samba, hip-hop, house and West African dance.
“As club dancers and social dancers, we’re always bringing the breadth and the width of our experience to the dance floor,” she said. “He was doing that with his music, and so I was really drawn and inspired by that.”
The club scene served as a major inspiration to Asherie and her company members, who often hit the clubs together as well as perform on stage and in the studio. “The vibe of the club as a place of freedom of expression, as a place of tolerance and inclusivity, and a place where the collective consciousness really celebrates the individual, where you are really free to be yourself — this vibe is very integral to the way I make work, the company and everything we do,” she said.
The affection for Odeon extends outside of the Asherie family and into the “dance family” that Ephrat Asherie Dance has created. “Odeon is about joy as a form of resistance and solidarity in rhythm,” said Teena Marie Custer, who has been with the company since 2011.
After a year of canceled shows, these performers are itching to get back on the stage and share their work with an audience.
“It’s so special to connect with people you love in this very specific way, but also to be able to share that connection,” said Ms. Vee, who has also danced with the company since 2011. “There’s nothing like it.”
When those audiences file into the newly constructed Rivers Green stage at the College of Charleston, Asherie hopes they will react to Odeon in whatever way feels natural.
“I don’t ever want audiences to feel that they have to sit in their seat or that they can’t say something if they feel moved to cheer or to clap or to holler,” she said. “Even on stage sometimes we say things to each other or make sounds, and it’s very much part of these movement forms.”
Mackenzie Snell is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.