Thursday, October 01, 2015


The intimate atmosphere of the Minetta Lane Theater -- a venue that seats just under 400 -- provides a perfect place for Company XIV's 2015-2016 season. With their signature slinky and sexy dances, the venue heightens the voyeuristic nature of the Company's burlesque-infused take on classics such as Cinderella, their first offering, running from September 22-November 15th.

From the moment the audience enters the space, spectacle begins with scantily clad chorus girls and boys erasing the fourth wall, a trait you see often in Company XIV productions, as they peer into mirrors and recline on chairs before the "performance." This re-imagined version of Charles Perrault's Cinderella also showcases artistic director/founder Austin McCormick's knack for offering familiar narratives blended alluringly with opera, circus, vaudeville, cabaret and Baroque dance (Who else would feature the step-sisters singing Irving Berlin's "Sisters" in German while wearing a conjoined twins/sumo wrestler suit?).

                                          The cast of Cinderella/Photo credit: Phillip Van Nostrand

Like vaudeville, which challenged class and racial values with the diversity of its acts while still maintaining its audience's interest,  McCormick's choreography and direction explores sexuality in an open, ambitious way that might feel uncomfortable to mainstream folk even as they remain undeniably entertained. The cast contains an androgynous appearance featuring heavy makeup (by Sarah Cimino) that gives them a soft, other worldly look and costumes designed by Zane Pihlstrom and seemingly inspired by Las Vegas, Victoria Secrets and the Moulin Rouge (gilded thong, check; nipple glitter, check; garter belts, check; angel wings, check). Often, it is enough just to gape at the beauty of the actors and their lean, Grecian-statue-like bodies. McCormick exploits this by allowing performers to linger on stage, posing between scenes and acting as silent narrators as they hold chalkboards above their head, which contain scene details.

The cast is strong, especially Marcy Richardson (as the step-sister) who makes pole-dancing while singing opera more sexy than strange and Davon Rainey as the stepmother. He deliciously dominates the stage with his animalistic poses, lean look, over-the-top headresses and diva-like attitude (think Grace Jones in her heyday), making the most of the evil role while delivering some beautiful dancing that makes his ballet background apparent. Cinderella (Allison Ulrich) looks vulnerable in all she does, from becoming a table for her step family's use to meeting her fey prince (Steven Trumon Gray). This fragility offers a delicate version of the character, but also makes her appear wan in comparison to the more vivid personalities in the performance.

Cinderella also has vaudeville's pastiche quality: the audience always has something to look at. Here's another number. Another bit. During intermissions (and there are two), the show continues (so don't linger at the bar). Even the act of wiping down the stripper pole in preparation for the next scene becomes an exercise in expression. But that madcap variety doesn't always work. Some of the intermission pieces, especially a spirited mambo and a feisty, fun-filled cast dance party, captivate more than the main show -- which at two-and-a-half-hours and three acts is too long. The ball, for example features multiple dance numbers when one strong number would suffice.

Next up in the season is the revival of the holiday show Nutcracker Rouge (Nov. 24—Jan. 17, 2016), an erotic version of The Nutcracker, followed by the the world premiere of Snow White (Jan. 26—March 12, 2016).

(Press ticket, orchestra)

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