When I first heard that Caroline Calouche & Co. were bringing a new collection of choreographies, Spring Forward, to the McBride/Bonnefoux Center, I already surmised that the title might just as easily been Spring Upwards without any loss of accuracy. For Calouche & Co. are proponents of aerial dance in all its varieties.
And indeed, with all the apparatuses that were to be used in the six pieces already in place before the program began, the McBride/Bonnefoux's main studio looked like an aerial dance factory. A trapeze, a suspended hoop, bungee cords, twin aerial silks and slings, and a huge suspended skeleton of a cube were all reasonably secured to the flyloft - no dancers fell, anyway.
Calouche herself was the busiest dancer in her 11-person troupe, particularly when the choreographies went airborne. She can also be a busy choreographer, as her opening piece, "Solo con... ," demonstrated. Less would have been more as this solo unfolded on a trapeze, set to music by Lucovico Einaudi. Held positions were graceful and beautiful, softly dramatized by Jennifer O'Kelly's lighting, but the transitions between them were usually rushed and unmusical.
Members of the company have obviously been strongly encouraged to venture into choreography, with three of the next four pieces choreographed by troupers: "Human" by Reba Bowens, "Shadows" by Jim Reynolds, and "Out of Ashes" by Allison Hagaman. Calouche reciprocated by setting a fine new aerial piece, "what brings us close," for her four ensemble dancers, Emily Burns, Ayla Claypool, Jamie Larkin, and Briana Mazzio.
The most intriguing and experimental piece of the evening united Calouche, Reynolds, Dominique Anderson, and Colton Southworth in the choreography and concepting. "Free to Live" took up the entire second half of the program, beginning with all the dancer/choreographers walking onstage as if getting ready to start a rehearsal session - except for Southworth, who was replaced by Reynolds. Action started with two additional uncredited performers planted at either side of the audience calling out suggestions for the dancers to follow.
Informality was gradually replaced by a structured medley of dance segments - solos, pas de deux, and ensembles - on most of the aerial devices arrayed before us. A large table was brought in from the wings and somehow inverted into an aerial apparatus as the fantasy progressed, with music by Rodrigo y Gabriela, Solex, Andre Hajj Ensemble, Silvano Michelino, Rokia Traoré, Julie Fowlis, Tribal Metamorphosis, and Olatunji all in the whirl of the soundtrack. The dozen or more segments could stand some trimming - and the recorded text at the end was unintelligible - but the daring and overall vision were compelling. The segment when that cube finally came into play was definitely a keeper.
During their first full season at the McBride/Bonnefoux, Caroline Calouche & Co. have certainly earned an encore. They will get it when they move over to Booth Playhouse, where they will become the Blumenthal Performing Arts' resident company for the 2012-13 season.