Local Arts

Dancing on a building? It’s one way to celebrate reopening of Mint Uptown

Dancers Sarah Ritchy (left) and Caroline Calouche during an August rehearsal on the Mint uptown.
Dancers Sarah Ritchy (left) and Caroline Calouche during an August rehearsal on the Mint uptown. Michael Church Photography

Visualize Spider-Man in a silver lamé top, black shorts and a flaring blue skirt, clinging to the front of the stone façade of the Mint Museum Uptown, 50 feet above South Tryon Street. Now you know what Charlotteans will see when “Perspective” makes its debut.

The piece will be part of the reopening celebration of the renovated museum, which had been scheduled for Sept. 14-16. That was postponed midweek as Hurricane Florence approached. Museum staff said they hoped to reschedule them this week, if possible; updates will be available on the museum website.

When it’s able to be performed, “Perspective” will fulfill Caroline Calouche’s dream of dancing on a building in her adopted city. She’s been fulfilling dreams for a dozen years: Starting Charlotte’s only full-time aerial dance troupe in Caroline Calouche and Co., becoming a resident company with Blumenthal Performing Arts, doing educational shows and touring, opening the Charlotte Cirque and Dance Center on Monroe Road.

Now the sky – or a tall building jutting into it – seems to be the limit.

Lunch-hour strollers last month craned their necks at open rehearsals, while dancers (Calouche among them) lowered themselves on harnesses from the Mint’s top floor. Spectators watched with a mixture of awe, pleasure and “There’s-no-way-they-could-fall?” anxiety, as recorded piano music filled the plaza.

“Perspective” marks the first time anyone has danced on a Charlotte building – though “dance” loosely describes the swaying motions of the women who swung side to side and away from the building separately or in tandem.

“I have wanted to dance on a building for the longest time,” Calouche says. “I had to find the right rigger in Cameron Good (owner of Rogue Aerial Arts in Houston). We Skyped for hours with the city and the Mint, who were enthusiastic; we thought about performing on the building’s side, but landing on walls with all those angles would be hard. The Knight Foundation gave us a grant through the Charlotte Dance Festival (which she founded in 2006), because they want to bring more art to public places. Then we were ready.”

Calouche bookended her season with challenges. After “Perspective,” she’ll revive “Clara’s Trip,” her updated “Nutcracker,” in December and “Rouge,” a mildly naughty cabaret show, in February. Then comes the April premiere of “Lingua,” a full-length expansion of a piece she created as a 20-minute experiment. (Indoor shows run at Booth Playhouse.)

Though “Lingua” deals entirely with language, it defies clear description. Nonetheless, she tries.

“It’s about how language changes thought processes, the way we perceive the world,” she says. “I have met Israeli dancers who spoke English perfectly but expressed themselves differently than we do. My dad’s Lebanese, and his thought patterns were similar. So I had no problem communicating with them, but other people did.

“The audience will be seated only in the orchestra level, and the stage will extend into the crowd like a runway. (Calouche dancers perform both in the air and on the ground.) We’ll ask questions of them and teach them a simple, non-verbal language based on clapping that brings dancers onstage and off. I’m still deciding how it will all come together.”

Calouche never stops planning, whether organizing a fundraising masquerade party at Lenny Boy Brewing Company in October or preparing the 2019 Charlotte Dance Festival, which hosts local choreographers and imports others every April.

Mainly she worries about providing places for dancers and choreographers who need homes. The Cirque and Dance Center’s lease expires in three and a half years, and “We’ll be bursting at the seams by then.

“Charlotte Ballet uses its own (facility) pretty much full-time, and we’re the only other dance company in town with dedicated studio space. You can’t just put dancers down on a concrete floor in an empty building. Richmond, a much smaller city, has a dance center in a renovated high school that multiple companies use. Charlotte needs one, too.”

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.