It takes a lot of pirouettes to fill a half-century. And since 1963, Asheville Ballet has staged seasons full of fluid choreography, dazzling costumes, and French vocabulary. As the area's only professional adult resident company—and one of western North Carolina's oldest non-profit organizations—the ballet has become a creative pillar of the community. An average of 23,000 audience members flock to see their productions each year, marveling at masterworks such as The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and Swan Lake. In addition to their classical credentials, the company also gracefully tackles contemporary, full-length pieces featuring multi-media elements.
Train dancers with the best instruction possible. Give audiences professional work to watch. Inspire a love of ballet in the community at large. This is the three-part mission at Appalachian Ballet Company, and it hasn't changed since its founding in 1972. That aim to both educate and entertain informs every production the company performs, which includes classic stories such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, and an annual Nutcracker, complete with lavish sets and costumes.
Appalachian Ballet Company's artistic prowess has won it more than truckloads of roses. The organization was accepted into Regional Dance America's Southeast Regional Ballet Association in 1989, and became an Honor Company three years later. Artistic Director Amy Morton Vaughn has earned plenty of acclaim herself, including an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and a 2009 Teacher of the Year award from the Tennessee Governor's School for the Arts.
Many dance companies approach ballet from a modern angle. Caroline Calouche, celebrating her company's 10th anniversary, prefers a more perpendicular one. When the stage is not enough space for her visions of macabre masquerade balls or surreal dreamscapes, she takes to the air above it, outfitted with a cirque's worth of aerial harnesses and accoutrements. Her dancers are just as likely to pirouette down a 20-foot skein of golden silk as across a hardwood floor. Pairs of lovers might hang precariously from the frame of a hollow cube or perform a gravity-defying pas de deux on the double lyra—their suspension above the earth either an expression of freedom or a prison of their own making. Like identifying an elderly smoker's gender over the phone, the airborne element leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
By marrying the storytelling ability of floor-bound choreography with the gravity-defying tricks of circus arts, Caroline Calouche & Co. unleashes the full potential of aerial dance. The company's productions are free to venture to strange new places. For example, in past shows, women have risen from their graves to haunt their murderous husbands. Likewise, the sounds of Moby and Blue Man Group are more likely to be heard than Debussy.
Audience members who want to ply the ropes and silks for themselves can learn to do so during the dance company's aerial-dance classes, along with a tight curriculum of ballet, contemporary, and stretching and strengthening courses. For all its global influences and aerial showmanship, Caroline Calouche & Co. keeps its feet rooted in the local community with outreach programs for all ages, ethnicities, and social groups.