Choreographed, directed, and conceived by Austin McCormick
Written by Jeff Takacs
Company XIV's latest presentation, Nutcracker Rouge (through January 9), keeping with their sexy fairy tale schema, is a passionate ballet masquerading as a sultry burlesque. The surface boils with skin and suggestion, while the movement and narrative structure supporting and propelling these bodies in motion evoke the most sublime of ballet positions. The performance, a reinterpretation of Alexandre Dumas' version of E.T.A. Hoffman's fable The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, works to expose the darkness and decadence hidden in this seemingly innocent story of children and their imaginations.
The performance begins before the audience has even taken their seats, with Uncle Drosselmeyer (Jeff Takacs, who also wrote the book) insidiously enjoying a libation amongst the crowd, as he presents his newest creations; two innocent dolls, girl and boy, in a gold-curtained box, who engage in not so innocent acts before the very table the audience eats and revels at. His niece, Marie-Clair (Laura Careless), appears and spots the foot-tall nutcracker, her Christmas gift. The familiar story is set in motion, but something is off. There is a sinister sense of impending corruption this night. Perhaps it's the richness of the chocolate and red wine, or the power and tenacity held in check and hidden just beneath the pristine whiteness of the dancers' snowflake tutus, but it is clear this will not be Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, no more than Tchaikovsky's was Dumas' or Dumas' was E.T.A. Hoffman's. This is a very good thing.
The clever conceit of Nutcracker Rouge is that Marie-Claire's journey through the Nutcracker Prince's kingdom is not only fraught with the taunting and danger of Tchaikovsky's original, but it is an education as well, a purging of innocence, as she is danced through her adolescence and introduced to not only different ways of moving—from Flamenco to Can-Can to Jazz—but also to the varied types of sexuality available to a young lady. Drosselmeyer practices S&M with the Licorice Boys, nubile and muscled men wearing black leather cod-pieces: "You don't like licorice? It's an acquired taste! Grow up!" Marie-Claire tastes the lips of another of the female dancers and is smitten by this seemingly forbidden treat.
With each new presentation of form, movement, and sexual endeavor, choreographed so expertly by Austin McCormick that it almost seems improvised, Marie-Claire crawls closer, engages more earnestly, touches, feels, dances, joins in the melee of the night. After she disappears and Drosselmeyer declares that all has been lost, Marie-Claire returns, spotlighted above the stage, having removed her taffeta green skirt for a bare-all corset and some pasties. She's come to claim her kingdom of decadence, The Land of Sweets, and her prince. Her skin and barely-there costume out-glitter even the baroque and gilded sets, which inspire awe upon entering the space at 303 Bond. The large bruises and contusions on her bare white legs are illuminated—the scrapes, welts, battle scars stand out in the harsh light, reminding us that this type of dance is physical and violent, a demanding and ultimately draining act. Careless's solo number is body range pushed to the limit as she wrenches and hurls her body into each new step in the dance, as if deliberately trying to throw her spine out of her skin.
There is, thankfully, no overarching battle between good and evil, no fight between mice and cookies, but rather a celebration of dancing and the ability for human beings to engage with life and love and sexuality however they choose, as long as their hearts are good—speaking of which, Company XIV donates half of its proceeds to an LGBT shelter in Brooklyn. The only battle worth fighting here is within, and it's a battle that should be hard-fought, enlightening, and need not involve stabbing seven-headed rats.
After Marie-Claire's dance, Drosselmeyer suddenly can't contain the hunger for his niece that's been building throughout the show, and he calls his Licorice Boys to coral her (Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" drones from the speakers). But before he can take her a shot rings out and the Nutcracker Prince appears, slays the evil-ish watchmaker, and exits stage right. Drosselmeyer gets up clutching at his stomach, "I'm hit!" he yells, and stumbles away, thigh high leather stiletto boots and all to the gates of hell. But as any good showman, before he goes, he takes one last look at life, and recalls a moment in his childhood, where he realizes there are only a few things he wants out of life: to behold beauty, to know truth, to practice love, and of course after a pause, "I want a death scene." Drosselmeyer gets his campy final moments on the stage, echoing, even in death, Nutcracker Rouge's insatiable lust for life.
(photo credit: Corey Tatarczuk)