A couple of years ago, I caught Company XIV’s Nutcracker, and was truly charmed by its naughty, burlesque, pseudo-Baroque take on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story. Austin McCormick, the troupe’s artistic director, had translated the children’s tale into a phantasmagoria of sexual awakening, a garden of delights filled with tight corsets and high-heeled men, contortionists, and clever, orgiastic partnering. What struck me about the production was both how imaginative it was, and how well it conveyed the underlying themes of the story. The splendor of the staging, and the talent of the performers, made it all the more compelling.
McCormick, a Juilliard graduate, has since made a Cinderella, which I missed, and, now, a Snow White, which plays through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Like his Nutcracker, it is a visual feast; McCormick does not stint on production values. There are enough elaborate corsets, sparkling codpieces, masks, pasties and headdresses – one in the shape of a galleon! – in this show for twenty evenings of high-class burlesque. Snow White, or “Schneewittchen,” as she’s referred to here, wears the most prettily bedazzled pointe shoes you’ll ever see. And where did McCormick find a toy theatre, complete with paper puppets? He is a collector of wonders.
The dancers, all beautiful, all highly-trained, if somewhat under-utilized, strut and twist and crawl and do approximations of flamenco and tap and baroque court dance, always with a saucy bend of the knee, a suggestive glance, and a swish of the hips. There is no question that the show is sexy; the dancers, especially Laura Careless as the insatiable Queen, know how to move. (Hilly Bodin, as Snow White, is less convincing, in part because her character is never defined.) And there are a couple of striking circus acts to look forward to in the second half of this too-long evening. Courtney Giannone is impressive with the Cyr wheel, a large hoop with which she floats and spins and seems to suspend herself, magically, in the air. She also plays the piano onstage.
But it turns out that the pleasures of excess are really not enough to hold one’s interest if the underlying material is thin. There are not enough pasties in the world to keep this show from dragging. The problem is the concept. A German-speaking MC (Lea Helle), tells us the story, in a louche, cabaret-style drone, introducing episodes from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Live feeds show the faces of the dancers backstage, preparing themselves, licking their lips, making provocative faces. Careless performs one vigorous but incoherent solo after another. There’s a lot of caressing, a lot of posing. Some acts, like the flamenco number, feel irrelevant, like padding.
The show picks up in the shorter second act, once the pretense of a story is more or less jettisoned. The musical selections, from Schubert lieder sung onstage by Marcy Richardson, to Chopin and re-interpretations of Britney Spears, are cleverly chosen, and, unfortunately, more varied than the choreography that accompanies them. The cast is multi-talented; they dance, they sing, they spin on the flying trapeze. In fact, it might be better if he whole evening were played more like a revue, a frame for their individual talents, with just a few threads of narrative to hold things together. After all, we know the story already.