Director: Austin McCormick
Choreographer: Austin McCormick
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
Company XIV, under the leadership of Austin McCormick, celebrates the holiday season in style. This talented group of dancers, singers, and designers adapt Christmas’ classic ballet into a classy and fun allegory for the sexual awakening of Marie-Claire, known to most theatre-goers as Clara, portrayed by dancer Laura Careless. Nutcracker Rouge is the adults-only, all-thong version of The Nutcracker for which you’ve all been waiting.
When adapting one dream world into another, the beauty is that anything goes as long as it’s done well, and Company XIV understands that completely. The frame story is still the same. A girl, or young woman, receives a nutcracker statue as a gift on Christmas, and then falls into a deep sleep and enters a fantastical dream world, ending with a royal coupling with a handsome prince, just before waking up to discover herself back in the real world. The dream itself is far more risqué, with visits from a sexy toreador and a small troupe of reverse centaurs—that is, toned male human bodies with large golden horse heads—a jazzed-up version of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and men in glittery codpieces, to name a few differences from the traditional ballet. There are also elements taken from classic fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, as well as scenes that must have come straight from the mind of McCormick, like dancers with large poodle heads emerging from underneath Marie Antoinette’s gigantic hoop skirt.
The score of this production is a charming combination of Tchaikovsky’s original composition, with modern pop music from the 20th and 21stCenturies. Songs like Lollipop and Peppermint Twist transport us to the 1960s, while a stunning acrobatic performance of Sia’s Chandelier, from performer Marcy Richardson, pivots us right back to present-day. Marie-Claire’s dream takes place at the Sugar Shack, a performance venue that is equal parts burlesque, cabaret, and S&M joint. This allows for the variety of numbers, as well as the opportunity to see the dressing room and offstage actions of the Sugar Shack as onstage portions of Nutcracker Rouge.
Most burlesque and neo-burlesque shows in New York City encourage audience participation. Actively cheering and applauding an act that you enjoy are almost mandatory actions. In musical theatre and traditional ballet, it is often considered more appropriate to wait until the end of a number before enthusiastically praising the performance. Combining burlesque with ballet, in a traditional theatre setting, Company XIV walks a fine line between two different sets of written and unwritten rules, and counts on its audience to do the same. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to control an audience’s behavior at or response to a production, and there are a couple of moments when disrespectful people in the house might take the opportunity to act without considering their fellow audience members.
We are given permission from the top of the show to take pictures as long as there is no flash photography. Sadly some people don’t know how to use their cameras properly, and a flash may go off nonetheless. Additionally, the vast majority of people no longer have cameras separate from their phones, and the large glowing screen that displays the picture being taken is just as distracting to anyone sitting behind you as the flash would be to the dancers. There are also people who continue to have their intermission discussions at full volume after the second act has begun, and then even several minutes later when we have clearly returned to being a theatrical audience focused on the stage.
Poor audience behavior aside, with hopes of removing the permission to take pictures during the show, Nutcracker Rouge is a wonderful production. McCormick’s outstanding concept and brilliant choreography, combined with the gorgeous designs by Zane Philstrom (sets and costumes) and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (lighting), plus a group of performers who fill the stage with charm and talent beyond measure, make for a new must-do on every New Yorker’s holiday season calendar (especially if you’re looking for somewhere thrilling to take a date).
Runs until 17 January 2016 | Photo: Mark Shelby Perry