Company XIV Nutcracker 2018-6800
Mark Shelby Perry 2018
The holiday season may be over, but those looking for edgier post-holiday entertainment can skip the Rockettes and head straight to Brooklyn for the return of Company XIV’s retelling of the Nutcracker. Nutcracker Rouge is truly a one-of-a-kind event featuring incredible performances that fuse live music, ballet, burlesque and circus all in the lavish style of Baroque with performers you can’t take your eyes off of. Award-winning director and choreographer Austin McCormick created Company XIV in 2006 and, along with other fairy-tale retellings, Nutcracker Rouge has been playing to packed houses ever since. Audiences are encouraged to enjoy absinthe or another decadent libation from the menu and immerse themselves in the seductive and innovative world created by Company XIV.
McCormick is a graduate of Juilliard and the Conservatory of Baroque Dance. His recent work includes choreography for the Metropolitan Opera’s Rusalka and Samson et Dalila, Chicago Lyric Opera, Canadian Opera Company, The Juilliard School, Guggenheim Works in Process, Carnegie Hall’s La Serenissima Festival, Gotham Chamber Opera, the Kennedy Center, Theater for a New Audience, Houston Grand Opera and Opera Columbus. His classical training is evident with the high skill level in the choreography. The company attracts incredible talent.
I spoke with McCormick, about the origins of Company XIV. We also discussed how his style of “Burlesque Baroque” has developed and how he works to keep this yearly production fresh for audiences.
Risa Sarachan: What was your initial vision when you created Company XIV? How has that expanded over time?
Austin McCormick: I decided while I was a student at Juilliard to begin the process of forming a company in New York. XIV was really born out of the desire to create something that I hadn’t experienced as a performer or audience member. I wanted to make theatrical experiences that immerse audiences in fantastical dreamscapes while engaging all the senses. XIV started as a speakeasy performance experience in Gowanus Brooklyn and has evolved quite a bit over the years.
Sarachan: Nutcracker Rouge has been done in rep each holiday season. Do you try to add unique new elements to it every season?
McCormick: I am always striving to keep Nutcracker Rouge fresh and exciting. I love incorporating new specialty acts each season to keep our audience on their toes.
Sarachan: What are you particularly excited about for this year’s production?
McCormick: This season, Monsieur Drosselmeyer is played by magician extraordinaire Albert Cadabra. The incorporation of magic is a new element that audiences are really enjoying. We have some fabulous new circus artist aerialists this season, along with familiar faces that our XIV patrons have grown to love!
Sarachan: How has your classical dance background informed your work with this company?
McCormick: My background is in classical ballet and French Baroque court dance. My classical background informs my aesthetic and my attraction to performers who are also classically trained. My Baroque background influences everything I create-it was under Louis XIV’s reign that ballet was codified. He worked alongside prominent poets, playwrights, and costume designers making fashion and dance closely interlinked. He would host lavish theatrical spectacles in decadently decorated environments involving feasts, dance, booze, live music, opera, dramatic stagecraft innovations (aerial and singers suspended) and ornate costumes. They told classic Greek stories, myths and fairy stories in fantastical performance pastiches. Charles Perrault’s work (the writer of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and the Sleeping Beauty) was a favorite to read among the courtiers of Versailles. Company XIV’s artistic mission of reimagining classical fairy tales, ballets and myths in pastiche, vignette and variety form in decadent surroundings where all your senses are engaged, is an ode to Louis XIV, and the genre of entertainment created under his rule. What makes the aesthetic special is that we fuse that Baroque sensibility of gilded chandeliers, harpsichords, heeled shoes and powdered wigs with a million other influences from Weimar cabaret to circus sideshow and everything in between.
Sarachan: How do you define “Baroque Burlesque?” How do those genres meld in your productions?
McCormick: I’ve been calling my work “Baroque Burlesque” since 2006. It represents the two extreme aspects of my aesthetic- ornamented, disciplined decadence combined with sensual satirical striptease.
Sarachan: How collaborative is the process of creating each new show?
McCormick: I am very clear about what I want and the vision of each show, however, within that, I am very open to performer input and instincts. I am endlessly inspired by the artists of XIV, and the true magic happens when the work expands past my wildest dreams.
Phillip Van Nostrand
Sarachan: It’s exciting to see the way you transform music to serve the story. How do you select your music?
McCormick: Selecting the music is my favorite part of the entire process. I pull from every genre, style and era to create a mashup that is both nostalgic and current.
Sarachan: How important is the audience interaction in Company XIV’s shows?
McCormick: I love the fact that our venue size allows for intimate and specific exchanges with audience members. I think it enables a really special and unique audience and performer relationship. My philosophy as a creator is that we must treat the audience the way we would like to be treated from the moment they walk into our home. We perform and create from a place of generosity, inclusion and love.
Sarachan: Tell me a little bit about what it means to have your own beautiful, immersive space in Bushwick, finally?
McCormick: We had a space in Gowanus for a few years until Hurricane Sandy hit and flooded our theater. After that, we got mobile and began to do pop seasons at many theaters and clubs throughout the city. I searched for years to find a space that could house XIV and where we could make the business work financially. Bushwick ended up being the perfect neighborhood and energy to put down roots and create our home. Having a home means that we are able to plan full seasons, thus offering artists more consistent work. Our audience continues to expand and I am so grateful that they know where to find us!
Sarachan: What was the most challenging aspect of this production?
McCormick: I design and create the cocktail menu for every production. I love this aspect of my job, but it is a challenge to get every recipe perfect. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the patrons sipping on our luxe and exotic cocktails.
Sarachan: What artists are inspiring you at the moment?
McCormick: My collaborator Zane Pihlstrom (who does all XIV sets and costumes), and I love to look at all sorts of inspiration while making our productions. We love Alexander McQueen, antique circus costumes, avant-garde fetish grab and vintage French lingerie.
We are busily creating our next production called Seven Sins, inspired by the story of Adam and Eve, incorporating the Seven Deadly Sins opening on February 14th.
Company XIV Nutcracker 2018-5951
Mark Shelby Perry 2018
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Tickets for Nutcracker Rouge can be purchased here.