I’ve attached two pictures above because, though I have looked at about a dozen official photographs of Company XIV’s new holiday show Nutcracker Rouge, NONE adequately conveys the beauty of it. The one on top captures something of the color; the one on bottom gets something of the motion. To get them both, I encourage you strongly to get thee to the Minetta Lane theatre as quickly as possible.
I would call Company XIV my favorite dance company in New York but that would be dishonest. I rarely attend dance, so that wouldn’t be fair to all the hard-working companies out there. But this is my fourth Company XIV production, and their pull on me won’t surprise you in the least once you discover this company’s work. Artistic director and choreographer Austin McCormick draws heavily from history for his inspiration. He is especially interested in the Baroque era, when ballet was young and still populist and sexy, and this is his jumping off point in terms of movement style, scenic and costume design, subject matter (fairy tales and classics), and presentation (unlike the modern ballet, text and song play a role). McCormick trained in this specialty at the Conservatory of Baroque Dance Theatre. See my 2010 article on him in The Villager here. But in maintaining the spirit of that era, he playfully invokes much that came since, mostly movements that echo the decadence of that earlier period, such as the can-can of the Moulin Rouge, and American burlesque.
That’s the background. So if you’re Nutcrackered out, have no fear, this is neither your mother’s nor your daughter’s Nutcracker, but more like a kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory collage that uses Nutcracker as a leaping off point in the vaguest of ways. (The actual ballet The Nutcracker didn’t even come into being until a couple of centuries after McCormick’s favorite time period.) Here the girl Marie Claire (Laura Careless) is given a nutcracker by the Drosselmeyers (Jeff Takacs and Shelly Watson) and then taken through a dream-like fantasia of dances based on sweets: licorice, chocolate, candy cane, cake, macaroon, etc etc. It thus has the structure of a burlesque show, and while each turn is sexy, each also has some amazing additional skill-based element that takes this production into the realm of the dazzling: contortion, acrobalance, trapeze, the playing of castanets, the cracking of whips. This is over and above the beauty of the dances themselves which excite admiration for reasons both aesthetic and athletic.
The Drosselmeyers become ringmasters. Takacs is the company’s traditional narrator. He composes his own droll doggerel in close collaboration with McCormick; onstage he always strikes me as some sort of cross between Charles Perrault and Jim Morrison, with sprinklings of Silenus and de Sade, all cod-pieces and tri-corner hats. The ample and commanding Shelly Watson evokes bordello madams from a dozen eras, and regales us with tunes ranging from lullabies to opera to the blues. Sophie Tucker by way of Versailles. And I assure you it would be madness not to give high praise to set and costume designer Zane Pihlstrom whose command of a thousand Western and “Orientalist” idioms matches McCormick’s own. The show is an explosion of sensory pleasure. (And with sweets as the theme we can add “tasting” and “smelling” to “seeing” and “hearing” on the list of senses attacked; as for “touching”, we live vicariously through the bodies of the dancers.
General audiences will leave the theatre supremely, buoyantly charmed and entertained (the cast received a standing O the night we attended; I’m sure they get one every night). Artists who attend will walk out invigorated and inspired, head full of ideas, determined to hit McCormick’s very high mark of achievement. The beauty part is that this is a company. They have been at this since 2006, and God Willing they will be at it for a good long while to come. So if you miss this particular production (though you’d better not, it’s their best yet), you will most certainly have future opportunities to see their genius in action. I for one intend to follow this company until it — or I — cease to function.
Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge will be at Minetta Lane Theatre through January 5. Info and tickets here: http://companyxiv.com/productions/?view=nutcracker-rouge