Tame is not the word I'm looking for… On a Saturday night I and almost 300 other spectators gathered in one of Blumenthal's coziest theaters to engage in a night of stunt work, anecdotes and lap dances. Although I have seen Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, I can confidently say that I was not prepared for what Charlotte's contemporary dance and circus company had to offer. The easiest way to explain this 90-minute performance is to ask you to imagine a bachelorette party. Now imagine that the party is put on by a collaboration of world-famous stunt people Dar Robinson and Liza Minnelli in her role as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret." The result would be "Rouge."
Guided by host and singer Rachael Houdek, "Rouge" opened with a burlesque-style group dance number that was rounded out by Houdek's sultry, 1940s velvet pipes. Her ability to belt like Idina Menzel almost balanced out the discomfort I felt in watching the hyper-sexualized performers grinding behind her. One of the first acts to follow that dance number was a person, in the highest of high heels, who jumped through aerial hoops, flipping onto the laminate stage flooring as though it was nothing. Soon after, there was a long sequence of hand-balancing, in which a performer held their entire body up with just the support of a single palm.
The music throughout the entire show, particularly at the most volatile of moments, swelled in time with the stunts. Almost every genre flitted across the stage at one point or another. There were pop, indie and even slow-dancing songs to fit the mood of each individual act. The lights also dimmed, pulsing different colors depending on the somberness or intensity of the given piece. Watching each acrobat, singer, dancer and actor present their work was like sitting at a table and having the most talented people ask you to hold out your hands as they place a precious offering into your open palms. As the first act encroached upon the mid-finale, Houdek returned to the microphone at the lip of the stage and announced that the performance to follow had been "conceptualized ten years" prior.
Sloshing water flowed over the platform, the lights changing to a sultry burgundy, with hints of cobalt streaming through. A performer lay in a one-foot-tall, five-foot-wide swimming pool. She was half-submerged and thrashing around with her long hair flowing behind her. A hoop descended from the ceiling, and the performer grabbed hold of it. From water to air, she was an unearthed mermaid whose tresses dripped water into the audience as she sat and hung from the aerial hoop. The already rowdy crowd went wild.
Other than the shouting, catcalling, whistling and whooping from audience members, the thing that I found most disruptive during "Rouge" was the lap dance sequence. Just after the 20-minute intermission, Houdek reappeared and asked the audience for a volunteer. A middle-aged woman in a red dress desperately waved her arm in the air. Once she had joined Houdek on the stage, one of the performers wheeled out a box. Inside the box was another performer. The one who was pushing the box was called the "handler," and the one inside the box was dressed as a cat. With Houdek's direction, the audience member sat in the 'seat of honor' where she was danced on and caressed by the contortionist cat. Although the crowd loved this bit, I found it gimmicky and uncomfortable; irrevocably altering the tone of the show.
A welcome break, however, was a performer who appeared during interludes. She wore a blue tracksuit and carried a fold-out chair. Standing or sitting, she would simply talk. She told funny, morbid stories about a cadaver lab that she once took in college. It was like taking a breather from the hazardous action to listen to her talk, which was surprisingly entertaining and broke up the stunt work and dances nicely. The actual flow from one act to another could use some work. The tone of the overall show changed without any transitional period, and the audience's reactions were made to keep up with them.
Regardless, the contemporary dances were gorgeous, and the silk work was incredible. There were stories of inter-partner abuse, complex relationships and independence—all told through slow, deliberate movements. Performers dangled from long pieces of satin, known as silks, and reacted to one another's actions with almost perfect synchronicity. There were several body types represented throughout, and more than one of the performers had backgrounds in various forms of theater. Maybe don't go see this show with your dad or your brand new girlfriend, but if you're the kind of person who likes performances that take your breath away and leave you reflecting on them for weeks afterward, "Rouge" could be for you.