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ON TOE INTO RISQUÉ
by Glenda Frank
Company XIV, 428 Lafayette St., NYC
November 20, 2014 through Sunday, January 31, 2015.
Tues., Wed. Thurs., Sun. 8 PM; Fri. - Sat. at 8 or 10 PM.
Tickets $75-175 at (212) 677–1444 or Company-XIV.com.
Cast members of Nutcracker Rouge. Photo by Joshua Flannigan
"Nutcracker Rouge," a new, exaggerated spin on the holiday classic presented by Company XIV, revels in the human form, in young athletic flesh, in the grace of accomplished dance, in innovative costumes, and in the multiple talents of its mostly young, cross-gender performers. It is exciting and moving. You are invited to sit back, order a drink, and give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
Courtney Giannone. Photo by Joshua Flannigan
The "rouge" in the title indicates its X rating (and therein lies my problem, but more of that later). Like the original, we follow Marie-Claire (after all she’s French) but here she journeys from innocence to sexuality in the forbidden underground of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The troupe’s name, of course, references the roi as well as the elegant 17 and 18 century styles which inspired the parodic hairstyles, costumes (Zane Pihlstrom), make- up and choreography (Austin McCormick). Some more modern French favorites also find their way in, most notably the can-can performed by men, women and gender combinations. The colors, the shapes, the lighting (Janette Yew), and the minimalist sets are a dazzling spectacle that engages the imagination.
Cast members of Nutcracker Rouge. Photo by Joshua Flanningan.
"Nutcracker" is Marie-Claire’s dream and, close to the original, the piece begins with the Wind-Up Dolls, with gears on their backs and a delightful stop-start comic touch. Still demure, she becomes a little girl lost in the Russian snows as the company dances to Vivaldi’s "Winter."
Steven Trumon Gray. Photo by Joshua Flanningan
The heart of the production is the Land of the Sweets, where the production transforms from goodies into marvels as Cirque du Soleil-like moments alternate with choreographed scenes, which are performed with wry humor by highly trained gypsies. The small stage, which sometimes serves as a dressing room, is a world of movement, and we are the voyeurs who can almost reach out to touch the performers. The aerialists (Allison Ulrich and Courtney Giannone) move with sensuality and risk in a small space above the aisle. Candy Cane (Courtney Giannonne), as half male, half female, is breath-taking as she spins her Cyr wheel through an impossibly small space. In Turkish Delight (Allison Ulrich and Seven Trumon Gray) tease each other in their pole dance to Tchaikovsky’s “Arabian Coffee.” The score crosses borders and centuries; songs are sung live by Shelly Watson, who plays Mme. Drosselmeyer, Marie-Claire’s lascivious godmother; Brett Umlauf, who plays M. Drosselmeyer; and Katrina Cunningham. There is a place for Madonna’s "Material Girl" and for a Russian lullabye.
Katrina Cunningham. Photo by Joshua Flinningan.
By the second act it is clear that the sweets here have less to do with candy than with other pleasures. The routines grow rowdier and the costumes include lots of shiny pasties and codpieces. The movements becomes more suggestive at the cost of innovation, ending in an orgy titled "Cake." It is hard for the imagination to recover although Marie-Claire’s nod to Todd Hanebrink’s seduction is staged with some charm to Tchaikovsky’s
" Sugar Plum Pas de Deux." The evening ends as Shelly Watson and Brett Umlauf reprising the Russian lullaby. Then the cast, still in costume, gathers to greet the audience in the aisles and lobby.
Katrina Cunningham (center with microphone) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge. Photo by Joshua Flinningan.
The company has found a small niche and offers high quality productions. Mr. McCormick’s aesthetic and talent often rival anything seen on Broadway. But I think other aspects of the work are selling the tickets.
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