New York, ̂Theatre XIV
2 Dec 2017
Company XIV founder and artistic director Austin McCormick named his troupe after Louis XIV, and the company’s productions channel the rococo era’s flashy, sumptuous exuberance. But since 2012 Company XIV has been without a palace, operating nomadically, performing in different venues without a permanent rehearsal space. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Company XIV now has its own Versailles, Théâtre XIV in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where this year’s iteration of its burlesque Christmas confection Nutcracker Rouge is on through January 14.
Company XIV is, well, in good company at its new locale. Bordering the eastern edge of Williamsburg, Bushwick has an ample supply of warehouses and Company XIV aren’t the only ones utilizing the high ceilings. House of Yes, a theatrical club (costumes are sometimes required for entry) which hosts immersive discos and raves featuring aerial and circus performers, is nearby, and The Muse, a circus and aerial training space, is also in the area.
Company XIV’s productions espouse intimacy and titillation, and they achieve it, using the new theater to its full potential. Audience members walk by a champagne bar (stocked with bonbons and a $40 absinthe cocktail) upon entering, and pick up their tickets – their names written on place cards – at a mirrored console table, which is across from a dressing room. Flashes of sequins, fringe and flesh are visible behind a curtain of narrow black fabric strips. Plush, black leather loveseats and chairs (in the 18th century manner, of course), provide the seating. There is an in-theatre bar (and two intermissions, though few went for seconds). Performers waltz through the aisles of the audience, making entrances from every which way, their eyes meeting yours, their costumes rustling past you, exposed skin tantalizingly close, everything lit (by the clever Jeanette Yew) to mimic a candlelit court performance or a louche boudoir.
Nutcracker Rouge is a lush, flesh-fueled frenzy of sensuality and spectacle. McCormick’s gift for erotic elegance is mesmerizing. Any raunch manages to be a good dose of the subversive while also being good plain fun. The production abounds with abundant pleasure and plenty. His choreography is clever, and often seamless (his other choreographic credits include the Metropolitan Opera). Ballet, jazz, tap, acrobatics, gymnastics and traditional burlesque are deftly arranged and performed with classically trained talent.
Although Clara is given a nutcracker doll by a flamboyant, Drosselmeyer dandy, the narrative arc of the 2017 version is less pronounced. This leaves Clara, performed by Juilliard-trained, former Cirque du Soleil dancer and aerialist Allison Ulrich, as the sole consistent character. She’s also the one whose responsibility it is to carry what little narrative there is. Traditional scenes from the original ballet such as the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the final pas de deux, and various numbers from the Land of Sweets, are interspersed with acts featuring holiday and pop songs.
With codpieces that look like they’re bejeweled by Bulgari, the resplendent costumes leave little to the imagination. But this creates its own narrative, and what rises to the fore is a flowering of Clara’s sensuality. Initially the ingénue shocked by racy outfits and explicit choreography, Clara warms to the seductions before her. After some training by Lady Licorice (a BDSM burlesque routine starring soprano/aerialist Marcy Richardson), the Turkish Delight twins (aerialist/tap dancers Ross and Nick Katen), and others, Clara is ready for more than a meet and greet with her prince. The last time I saw this production, the final pas de deux – an invigorating series of swooping dives and acrobatic embraces – was imbued with a sense of longing and romance. This time Ulrich exhibits her newly learned sexual prowess by playing the feisty card – lunging with more lust than longing – into the arms of her partner.
Some of the best sequences from previous productions remain, albeit with fresh variations. Set to the Arabian dance from Duke Ellington’s adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the Katen twins’ dual aerial act, Turkish Delight, is astonishing. They can dangle their bodies (and sometimes Clara) by holding onto a hoop by a single foot. Marcy Richardson features prominently in multiple scenes, one of her best being the operatic aerial act in which she sings Coldplay’s “Yellow,” in her soprano register as she arcs her body in and out of her hoop. The twins tap to Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist.” The Spanish number has a female toreador flashing flags of fabric in swirls, reminiscent of Loie Fuller. “Mother Ginger,” is still a man in drag on stilts in an enormous dress, but singing a suggestive rendition of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
Nutcracker Rouge is so much more than a naughty Christmas show: it’s a serious production of the highest caliber, and a rare opportunity to see a dizzying array of New York’s theater talent under one roof. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.