Two Charlotte dance companies surge into spring this month – and into the past, the future and the sky (both literally and metaphorically).
Caroline Calouche & Co. offers a double bill Friday and Saturday: “Spring Forward” for adults and “Star Gazer” for families.
Martha Connerton Kinetic Works will reprise her hourlong piece “The Seasons,” also aimed at families, in a new production April 30 at CPCC’s Halton Theater. (Though people who go to UNCC’s “Recycled Runway” program Saturday at the Center City building on Ninth Street will get a Connerton preview.)
I spoke to both choreographers about the ways they’ve created, adapted and updated work.
Her company is known for aerial shows, and this month’s performances include dancers on trapeze, silks and other off-the-floor apparatus. Yet the “Spring Forward” pieces will be more grounded than usual, and one of them has dancers using their mouths as well as their feet.
The 30-minute “Lingua,” her first piece of dance theater, anchors the show. Calouche will use “voice-overs and dancers who talk while they move. I’m exploring how gesture and language support each other in different ways: We even have a great tap dancer who’s going to tap in Morse code.” (There’s a bungee cord, too.)
She’s never done so eclectic a program. “Black Coffee,” a collaboration with blues singer Nita B., deals with infidelity and depression and sets women aboard “a humongous trapeze.” “The Glass Ceiling,” which refers to limits put on women, was inspired by Calouche’s realization that she’s often the only woman present when choreographers or heads of dance companies meet; it pairs her with another woman doing “things we’re used to seeing male dancers do, overhead lifts and traditional partnering.”
“Le Moment de Partir,” Calouche’s first contemporary solo, comes from even more personal experiences: The title refers to the instant when the soul leaves the body, and it was inspired by memories of people who died young. As befits an evening with aerial elements, there’s lightness, too: The duet “Taking Flight” sends dancers aloft on silks in “a piece I just enjoy.”
Calouche calls “Star Gazer: A Trek Into Outer Space” the first show she has done with children in mind. She uses themes from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” but, in true Calouche form, rearranged them. The jolly Jupiter music now backs roller-skaters on the rings of Saturn. The music for “Mars” serves for a red storm on Jupiter; there are Martians, but they’re comic, capering creatures.
“I could never take astronomy in college, because the courses were at night, and I had to dance,” she says. “This piece comes from looking up at the stars when I was young.”
The veteran choreographer believes that “in Charlotte, you need to give people more than one reason to come out” to an artistic event. So her show at Halton will combine dance, a fashion show, visual arts, puppetry and classical guitar, plus a reception afterward.
The centerpiece will be “The Seasons,” an hourlong ballet with music by Alexander Glazunov that she trimmed slightly and rearranged. Drew Allison, the guy behind Grey Seal Puppets, has designed foam figures for her: flowers that grow in the “Spring” section, a cheerful sun for “Summer,” horses’ heads and tails that dancers hold while frolicking through “Autumn.” In “Winter,” women’s arms become the branches of trees, and bodies in brown unitards give the impression of bark.
“We want this to be charming and funny but also have exquisite dancing,” says Connerton, who will blend professional dancers with children ages 8 through 16. “Last year, we had start-up expenses and the labor of building this show from scratch; this year, we had the luxury of refurbishing small things that didn’t work.” (One tweak: making costumes laundry-friendly, so they didn’t lose elements in the wash.)
Though the performance begins at 7, people who show up then will have denied themselves half the pleasure. The doors will open at 6, so patrons can see art hanging in the upper lobby and admire a fashion show by Flavia Lovatelli and ecoFAB Trash Couture, which turns recycled and thrown-away elements into wearable garb.
At 6:30, guitarist Aris Quiroga will play. Allison will come forward for a pre-show involving his puppets. At 7, the performance will begin, but even that offers multimedia elements, from the costumes by Kriss Yavelak (including painted butterfly wings that extend from dancers’ bodies) to Joel Blackwelder’s video projections. WCNC-TV’s Larry Sprinkle will host.
Connerton, who focuses on use of the arts in education, will offer matinees for students and has designed lesson plans that connect this show to science classes. “I want to turn STEM into STEAM, with the ‘a’ being arts,” she says. “Kids who are going to push the envelope with new technology need to be creative thinkers who’ve had the arts as part of their education.”