Local Arts

Charlotte Dance Festival: Unrestrained, free-flowing, feminine

Caroline Calouche.
Caroline Calouche. Courtesy of Caroline Calouche.

Modern dance, as Caroline Calouche explains it, was a movement started by women at about the same time they were fighting for the right to vote.

Ballet, in contrast, was popularized during King Louis XIV’s reign. Dancers, brought in to entertain the monarch and his court, wore tight corsets and pointe shoes.

Modern dance looks less restrictive – because it is. “Women took off their corsets and pointe shoes and started to dance barefoot,” Calouche said.

Because modern dance began, in essence, as a women’s movement, it’s fitting that all the choreographers participating in the 10th annual Charlotte Dance Festival (CDF) are “strong, driven women,” according to Calouche. And it’s merely happenstance that led to the women-dominated weekend. (It’s not only by women, and it’s certainly not only for women. Six male dancers are part of the action.)

The festival – a full weekend of activities from March 18 through 20 – consists of two shows at the Blumenthal’s Booth Playhouse March 18, followed by three more at the Booth the next day. March 20 is given over to classes and workshops.

The festival is open to all genres of dance, but it favors innovation over tradition.

Calouche’s company, for instance, is known for aerial dance. They’re performing a sort of “greatest hits” show including their 10 fan favorites. The works were chosen last spring from an online survey promoted through social media. Eight previously performed works made the cut, and two new ones are being premiered.

“Not all the works have aerial arts incorporated, but I don’t think audiences will miss it with our athletic … style,” Calouche said.

Athleticism is precisely the right word for a performance that’s the culmination of more than 1,000 hours of collective rehearsal time for Calouche and her company. And that doesn’t include, she said, “the extra hours spent in training the body for rehearsals.”

“Dance is the most demanding art form and, sadly, the most unappreciated,” she continued.

Making the cut

To program the weekend-long festival, Calouche, the festival’s founder and director, put out a call for entries last summer. Twenty-five companies from eight states applied.

There’s no unifying theme, as Calouche didn’t want to constrict – corset-like – anyone’s creativity:

“We don’t have an overarching theme for the festival and probably never will. We don’t wish to influence choreographers’ art by saying your work needs to focus on X.”

The festival takes modern dance to the next level. “From the start, the Charlotte Dance Festival has had more contemporary dance represented than other dance form,” Calouche said. “Contemporary dance comes in a variety of styles, but the movement is more free-form and blends genres like ballet, jazz, modern dance.”

It’s so contemporary, in fact, that one dance company will perform a “rock ballet” (on pointe) to the music of Coldplay. Pittsburgh-based Bodiography will perform “Follow the Light” opening night.

Bodiography founder and director Maria Caruso performed a solo piece at the 2014 Charlotte Dance Festival and liked the community enough to return as the festival’s repertory ensemble choreographer last year. She now teaches master classes at Northwest School for the Arts, Winthrop University and other area schools.

She’s also serving as an advisor to the Charlotte Dance Festival on how to grow the nonprofit. “Charlotte has become my home away from home,” she has said. “I adore the artists I work with here and am inspired by their commitment to both dance performance and dance education.”

THE MARK Dance Company from Charlotte will perform “The Next Step,” nine works including a world premiere and two Charlotte premieres. Artistic director Arlynn Zachary will use props including chairs, a portable ballet barre and a large piece of fabric.

Helen Simoneau Danse, a modern dance company based in Winston-Salem with strong ties to New York, will perform a work Simoneau created – her first full-length dance. From the description, it sounds haunting, and urgent: It’s an investigation of “heritage, assimilation and identity to reveal how the willing erasure of the self may serve as a means of renewal.”

Then there’s a twist: “Examined abstractly through the lens of caribou, the iconic and threatened species from Simoneau’s native Canada, this most powerful member of the deer family serves as a trail guide for the work.”


If contemporary dance sometimes leaves you puzzled, don’t worry. It need not diminish your enjoyment. Calouche: “Not everyone is going to understand the theme or message behind every work presented at the festival, and that’s OK. We’ll have short program notes that we encourage audience members to read before or after they view a dance to aid in their understanding.”

And Calouche says anyone can appreciate modern and contemporary dance, even if you don’t comprehend it fully: “Different dance styles are simply different dialects of the same language.”

Charlotte Dance Festival

When: March 18, Bodiography’s “Follow the Light,” set to the music of Coldplay. March 19, THE MARK performs at noon, followed by Caroline Calouche & Co.’s “10 for 10” at 2 and 6 p.m. Dance Charlotte performs that evening at 8 p.m. All performances are at the Booth Playhouse. March 20: classes and workshops all day at the Patricia McBride and Jean Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance, followed by the the Charlotte Emerging Dance Awards (CEDA) at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: Single tickets range from $15 to $35 (buy for two or more shows and you’ll get a discount) and are available at carolinatix.org or by calling (704) 372-1000.

Details: charlottedancefestival.org.