Tag Archives: Caroline Calouche

Dangling Against the Outside Walls of Mint Museum, Caroline Calouche & Co. Offers Exciting New “Perspective”

Review:  Perspective: Aerial Dance on the Mint Museum

By Perry Tannenbaum

We don’t normally expect the ruggedness of mountain climbing and the delicacy of dance to converge. But at the Levine Arts Center in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, they have. At Caroline Calouche & Co.’s new show, Perspective: Aerial Dance on the Mint Museum, the two disciplines were combined in a series of four performances on each of two successive days. Seated in front of the Uptown Mint Museum, my wife Sue and I needed to be vigilant skywatchers in order to notice when the performances began. The building folds slightly into two halves that flank the Museum’s graceful front staircase, taking visitors above the gift shop and into the Mint’s lobby. At the top of the museum’s two facades, Calouche and Sarah Ritchy, peered over the ledge – and at each other – and began their descents, holding onto sturdy cliff-climbing ropes that they were tethered to. At about halfway down the facades of the museum, they buckled themselves in place. There was plenty of rope for them to swing back and forth along the side of the building and plenty of slack for them to launch themselves away from the building into mid-air.

Yes, the dancing was happening in two directions. The women moved parallel to the beige concrete facades of the museum, executing a variety of leaps, spins, balletic poses, steps, and splits. Yet Calouche and Ritchy weren’t scraping the walls of the Mint, so air was always between them and the building. To a considerable extent, Calouche and Ritchy were perpendicular to the building. Photos and movies of them appear to be taken from overhead rather than below, for the contact points between the dancers and the building were more often the soles of their feet than their toes. Yet when they were “standing up” straight, so to speak, we were fully aware that the dancers were actually prone, facing the sky, or in free-fall posture, suspended high above the entrance stairway. Truly, these Calouche & Co. performances did present a fresh perspective by merging elements of aerial and floor dancing in ways that Cirque du Soleil has never encompassed.

The medium has its own restrictions, beginning with the outdoors. With Hurricane Florence still threatening the coast of the Carolinas, Calouche had to cancel the run of Perspective that was originally set for last weekend. Mere rain or wind would have likely caused the same postponement. Outdoors, with street traffic just a few yards behind your spectators, sound quality isn’t going to be the best, yet music did seem to be a necessary complement to the dancing, assuring that Calouche and Ritchy remained in sync when they danced together. Unlike the aerial dances Calouche and her company have performed with silks, the more mountaineering works of Perspective didn’t allow for variations in altitude, accomplished with silks by shimmying up the fabric, wrapping it around the dancers’ legs and waists, and making controlled – sometimes excitingly precipitous – descents. At first blush, the vocabulary of movement seemed limited, but this was a maiden voyage, so there may be more frontiers that Calouche and Co. can explore, provided that opportunities like this will present themselves with some regularity in the future.

Perspective was unusually brief for a dance program, clocking in at about 10 minutes. Each of the four programs presented on the night we attended featured two different dancers than those who had danced the previous hour. Entrances and exits are somewhat labored and unwieldy, which may explain why the four hourly presentations weren’t compressed into one. Calouche and Ritchy couldn’t simply prance to the wings or drop to the ground to yield up the stage. When they weren’t soloing or performing in tandem, the dancers went into a sort of suspended animation to avoid stealing focus from each other. Not until their time together was done could Ritchy and Calouche shimmy to the ground on their remaining lengths of rope. Expediting these exits, allowing dancers to enter on the same rope others were leaving on, or dropping additional ropes over the side of the building would invite additional danger or necessitate additional crew.

Like Cirque du Soleil, these Calouche & Co. performances combined elements of artistry and Evel Kneivel. The mixture of grace and excitement was unlike anything I had witnessed before, with the peril factor noticeably enhanced by the breathtaking altitude and the outdoors. If Calouche & Co. develop this medium further and conquer some of its restrictions, performances on the Mint – and other buildings around town – will be can’t-miss events.

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Calouche and Crossroads Take Flight Outdoors

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Preview: Crossroads Festival

By Perry Tannenbaum

A new dance festival is leaping into the QC, touching down at First Ward Park for the Labor Day weekend, September 1-3. Pretty interesting idea, right? But the new Crossroads Festival isn’t merely an outdoor dance festival. It’s free, it features aerial dance classes and performances, and the main event starts just after sundown.

Now that’s pretty wild.

Caroline Calouche has been the queen of aerial dance in Charlotte for more than a decade. Her usual haunts have been Booth Playhouse; where Caroline Calouche & Co. offers its annual Clara’s Trip, an aerial Nutcracker; and Spirit Square, where she organizes a festival in early spring.

So what lured Calouche to the great outdoors?

“I was inspired by many great outdoor shows like Boston’s Shakespeare in the Park and Montreal’s Annual Circus Festival,” Calouche says. “Creating an outdoor show for the Charlotte community that reflects who we are has been a dream of mine for quite some time. Thankfully, the Knight Foundation helped make this dream come true.”

Though there are precedents in San Francisco, Boulder, and Victoria, bringing aerial dance outdoors – along with the Cirque du Soleil flavorings Calouche sprinkles into her choreography – is a fairly unique undertaking. Even Cirque doesn’t go all the way, opting for a bigtop on its famous tours.

“I did look into a circus tent so we can have the show rain or shine, but – whew! – that was crazy expensive!” Calouche confides. “Plus I would like the performance to take place under the stars with Uptown Charlotte as the backdrop to connect more to the location.”

Connecting with Charlotte was clearly a major factor in Calouche & Co.’s winning support from the Knight Foundation. Buy-in from Charlotte Center City Partners was also key before moving on to Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation to secure the festival’s location. Calouche’s Crossroads concept digs deep into Charlotte’s historical DNA.

Long before Charlotte became the crossroads for America’s most corrupt megabanks, it was a crossroads of commerce. If the Cherokee or Chippewa had named our city instead of the British, that name would likely mean crossroads. While the Uptown’s main crossroad is on Trade Street, Calouche’s event and choreography will remind us how Charlotte has also evolved into a crossroads for culture as well.

Each of the festival’s three days will begin with a potpourri of free dance and fitness classes. You can browse the online schedule and choose from hour-long sessions in samba, salsa, tap, hip-hop, capoeira, or aerial silks. Fitness freaks can contort themselves into the yoga and Pilates they truly deserve.

At 6pm, the pre-shows begin, also with various lineups of performers each evening. Constants in the lineup will be the MILA Dance Team, Mrudani School of Performing Arts, and the CC&Co. Youth Ensemble. If you’re itching for the NC Brazilian Arts Project, No Limits Dance Company, Hope of Israel, Maha’s Dances of IndiaHope of Israel, MufukaWorks Dance Company, or the Jazz Arts Initiative TrioMufukaWorks Dance Company,, consult the same handy webpage to see who’s up Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

All of those evenings will conclude with Crossroads, starting at 8pm. Yes, it’s also free, and Calouche promises that there will be no letup in variety when she and her company take to the air. On the contrary:

“The show includes contemporary dance, breakdancing, tap, zapeando, shag, capoeira, aerial silks, trapeze, bungee, partner acrobatics, aerial rope, Cyr wheel, and aerial hoop,” Calouche reveals. “My artistic idea is to either cross history with dance and/or circus arts or cross cultural dances that are represented in Charlotte’s community today. Crossroads is designed as an event for unity and the opportunity for people to learn about Charlotte’s history and culture.”

Guest unifiers will include artists from an exciting mix of disciplines, including actress Iesha Hoffman, percussionist Tim Scott, and slam poet extraordinaire Boris “Bluz” Rogers. Hoffman will narrate, knitting the various segments together and maybe providing cover during aerial apparatus changes.

Scott will be featured during the segment where tap meets zapeando dance and during what promises to be a wild breakdance battle on aerial rope. Rogers takes Calouche’s unifying fantasia to a whole new dimension with an original poem inspired by a great unifier, Thaddeus Tate. During Rogers’ spot, he’ll connect with the entire Crossroads cast on the floor.

Tate was an African American leader in Charlotte from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. Instrumental in establishing a library branch, an insurance company, and the Grace A.M.E. Zion Church – while rubbing elbows with the Uptown elite as owner of the Uptown Barber Shop – Tate is particularly pertinent because he resided on the block that is now First Ward Park. So Rogers’ tribute will definitely strike home.

With its unifying and educational components, Calouche tells us to expect a casual atmosphere rather than a carnival one, more like Symphony in the Park or Shakespeare on the Green than Speedweeks. There definitely will be food trucks, and D9 Brewery will be on the scene to help keep beer bellies properly bloated.

Like Clara’s Trip, which tends to shuffle its Nutcracker mix from year to year, Calouche expects to vary the content of Crossroads each time the festival rolls around. It’s not just a title – it’s a theme.Dominique jump color Michael Church

“Crossroads is the name of the event, and the theme will remain the same,” Calouche explains. “There might be some scenes that stay the same, but there is still more research I can do and other collaborators I would love to work with.”

Aerial dance is difficult enough to stage indoors, requiring a fly loft (ordinarily used to drop scenery from above) that’s sturdy enough to suspend up to four dancers on a dangling apparatus. Don’t try this at home. Or at Theatre Charlotte or Pease Auditorium.

So how exactly do you stage aerial dance outdoors? It sounds like CC&Co. will borrow from the big top concept and strip away the canvas.

“JHE is our production company who is building our stage, trussing, audio and lights,” Calouche says. “The stage will two feet from the ground on the grass near the 7th Street side of the park with four legs of truss crossing in the center at 25 feet high. Essentially we are building a theater in the round outside.”

Visualize a one-ring circus where 20 dancers, circus artists, musicians, and poets will perform under the stars – if the weather holds. So what happens if it rains?

“We wait it out and start when it passes,” Calouche replies.

Come to think of it, when most of your dancing is up in the air, you really don’t have to worry as much when the dance floor gets slick.

Roguish “Rouge” Keeps Its Freshness

Dance Review: CC&Co.’s Rouge

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By Perry Tannenbaum

Now in its fourth year, Rouge began as a slightly naughty variety show featuring Caroline Calouche & Co.‘s signature aerial choreography, with a naughty cabaret twist that meshed well with its October timeslot – and a late 9:30 pm performance that was a novelty for dance in Charlotte. Compared to the Nutcracker Rouge that I sampled last winter in an off-Broadway production, the first two CC&Co. editions of Rouge barely grazed the possibilities of risqué dance. Absent from the spectacles at Booth Playhouse were the profusion of pasties, satyrs, fauns, and cross-dressing men that I witnessed in Greenwich Village, all ganging up on an innocent virgin and serving as her initiation into the rites of eroticism. So if the Charlotte troupe had no intention of following a similar trail, it was prudent for the company to retreat from October, when steamier saturnalia might be expected, to a sunnier timeslot in August. Here the modest moves toward cabaret decadence and S&M stylings actually seemed more daring.

Yet the move to a balmier season didn’t absolve Calouche & Co. of the obligation to embrace cabaret naughtiness with gusto. If the opening tableau with three couples intertwining downstage and four females behind them straddling chairs was any indication of how the company would attack the can-can, then I could be grateful that I was spared from seeing a kickline that would have proven they can’t-can’t. Couples went through the motions of sensuous contact without either the heat or the enjoyment that would bring the choreography vividly to life, and the women on those chairs did little more than occupy them. A “Take It Easy” duet with Javier Gonzalez and Sarah Ritchy, some segments aerial and others on the floor, generated a little heat, but the closest we came to flame was Calouche’s “It Takes Two” aerial coupling with Anthony Oliva, introduced by hostess/songstress Rachael Houdek as the evening’s BDSM segment and boasting black costumes to match.

Set to some orgiastic guitar blues, something in this aerial choreography was definitely simmering.

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Hosting for the fourth time, Houdek seems to get what CC&Co. is about much better than she did in her first two years, and her singing has improved as much as her poise, most noticeably on “Creep,” the penultimate number on the Rouge 2016 program. Keeping the show fresh were five other guest performers, including the Von Howard Project from New York. Dancing the choreography of Christian von Howard, this trio of dancers – Breeanah Breeden, Jake Deibert, and Tracy Dunbar – were the gray antithesis of an orgiastic rouge spirit as they performed “Seeker”: eerily fluid, urban, dystopic, and occasionally extraterrestrial. Notwithstanding their discordant vibe, I wished Von Howard Project had offered us second and third helpings.

I can warily say the same about Atlanta-based Nicole Mermans, who delighted me midway during the second half of the evening with her “Tousled” on an aerial sling. Aerial pieces rarely strive for comedy, but this one had slapstick elements, set to a klezmer score. Hopefully, other pieces Mermans has devised would be equally unique, perhaps on an assortment of apparatuses. After watching aerial acts for a number of years, I’ve concluded that the number of moves available on each apparatus – particularly the aerial silks – is probably more limited than the number afforded by such gymnastic apparatuses as the rings, the pommel horse, or the balance beam. So are the risks after the performer has mastered each skill.

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So I was pleased that Rouge presented the wide variety of equipment that CC&Co. has accustomed its audience to, including Gwynne Flanagan from DC on trapeze and Molly Graves from Vermont on aerial rope. The only guest soloist who disappointed was Jen MacQueen from Atlanta, who only showed me moves on the cyr wheel that already I’d seen many, many times since the days that Cirque du Soleil first began touring. To her credit, Calouche has fortified her troupe to such an extent that the aforementioned members of the troupe – Gonzalez, Ritchy, and Oliva – aren’t alone in being able to perform to the level of the guest artists. Sarah Small performed a gorgeous aerial solo silhouetted behind a translucent disc, choreographed to an instrumental adaptation of Dvořák’s “Moon Song,” and though he wasn’t airborne at all, Jake StainbackSarah Small’s talents as an ecdysiast were singular nevertheless.

After the busy opening and the Von Howard Project spot, there were other segments featuring three or more performers, including a bouncy bungee trio (with some unseen complicity up in the fly loft) and an aerial finale on a massive twin-cube apparatus that could accommodate four performers simultaneously. My favorite was the semi-spontaneous segment that brought us to intermission, which began with Houdek picking out a conspicuously gifted member of the audience to bust out a few of his startling dance moves. Then members of the company invaded the audience, pulling some choice prospects onstage – well, they discreetly avoided old codgers like me, anyway. All of these recruits began to show their stuff to some very festive music. I not only noticed a non-musical actor among the recruits but also a few moves from the others that were raunchier than any of the rehearsed choreography. Rouge may not be particularly wicked, risqué, or even particularly French, but it remains an impressive show – and it attracts an impressive crowd.