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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 Mint Museum Uptown, my wife Sue and I needed to be vigilant sky watchers 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 façades, 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 façades 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 façades, 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 have been 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 the previous weekend. Mere rain or wind would have likely caused the same postponement. Outdoors, with street traffic just a few yards behind spectators, sound quality wasn'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 present themselves with some regularity in the future.
Perspective was unusually brief for a dance program, clocking in at about ten minutes. Each of the four programs presented on the night we attended featured two dancers different from those who had performed the previous hour. Entrances and exits were 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 on which others were leaving, or dropping additional ropes over the side of the building would have invited additional danger or necessitated additional crew.
Like Cirque du Soleil, these Calouche & Co. performances combined elements of artistry and Evel Knievel. 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 on other buildings around town – will be can't-miss events.