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The Charlotte aerial and contemporary dance company Caroline Calouche & Co. is presenting their sixth edition of Rouge at the Booth Playhouse. The show is a Valentine's-themed evening of aerial works, acrobatics, and dance that alternates between sexy cabaret and lighthearted variety show.
Cast member, founder, and artistic director Caroline Calouche walked out on stage in a sparkling bustier to introduce the company and the evening. She introduced each dancer on stage and then immediately, along with six like-dressed cast members, slipped into the risqué cabaret of eight acts.
Rouge started with dance but quickly moved into aerial works, the company's signature and unique feature (they are the only aerial and contemporary dance company in Charlotte). Curtains opened for the second act to reveal a woman in the air, balanced on two hanging ropes set up like a swing. She twisted and turned, flipped and fell suddenly, all while staying connected to the rope, even at one time hanging just by her head.
Each of the ten dancers showed tremendous strength and flexibility throughout the performance, and every act was very clean and well executed. The aerial parts were particular standouts. Perhaps the most mature and controlled were the duets between Calouche and Asheville-based circus artist Alan Malpass, who had several duets, some on the ground and some in the air. Especially in the air, the two performed spectacular displays of balance and support. Malpass would be hanging from a trapeze by his feet and Calouche's arms would be intertwined in his. Then, out of nowhere, she would seemingly drop, letting gravity unweave them while they still held on to one another.
In between the longer aerial pieces were shorter, sideshow-esque gimmicks done in front of the curtain and sometimes in the audience. Byron McDaniel, in shorts and suit vest, performed a quick and quirky dance interlude, displaying really splendid ballet technique (it is evident that he is well versed in the art form). Alicia Dawn crept out in a backbend and proceeded to astound (and maybe even unnerve) the audience with contortions.* Along with these came a stilt walker, a cha-cha lesson with audience members, and a striptease from one particularly unsuspecting yet confident audience member named Justin.
Throughout, Master of Ceremonies Rachael Houdek Sibrava (who has been with the company for all six editions of Rouge) narrated the acts and provided live vocals to some pieces. Houdek Sibrava is a powerful singer and charismatic host who interacted with the audience quite a bit. Her interactions were mainly lighthearted and at times comedic, and while they were well-taken by the audience, unfortunately these transitions disrupted the earnest and sexy mood created by the dancers. While the fourth wall had already been broken by the sideshows, these abrupt interludes removed the audience from the magic atmosphere otherwise being created. A real cabaret may be a fairly casual affair, but each aspect of its environment works together to uphold a slinky mystery. The dancers, costumes, sets, and those speaking should all show unity of tone. In Rouge, the dancers certainly created this atmosphere, and Houdek Sibrava did so while singing. However, the introductions, including Calouche's initial one, abruptly changed the tone. This, in consequence, reminded the audience that they weren't actually in a cabaret, but instead watching a show at the Booth Playhouse.
While it was unfortunate that the mood was occasionally disrupted, Rouge is still an impressive display of creative athleticism. Each piece was well executed and captivating to watch, and certainly well-received by the audience, who couldn't help themselves but to whoop and holler throughout the whole thing.
*Alicia Dawn was the second act on the aerial apparatus called the double hammock.
Rouge will continue at the Booth Playhouse for a third and final show on Saturday, February 9 at 9:00 p.m. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.