by Jane Soto
Off Broadway, Dance/Burlesque
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane
Runs through 17 January 2016
BOTTOM LINE: This sexy reinvention of the classic Nutcracker will spice up your holiday season with its fusion of baroque, ballet, aerial dance and burlesque set to pop music.
You enter the smoky, incense filled room of Minetta Lane Theater and are immediately transported into Company XIV’s magical world of opulence and hedonism. Choreographer and director Austin McCormick's combination of baroque and burlesque dance is a brilliant and racy move. This Nutcracker is luxuriously costumed, spectacularly lit and all the elements are stunning. Glitter, pasties, corsets, elaborately decorated cod pieces, incredible dance artistry, and classical renditions of pop songs are all part of the spectacle on this tiny Vaudevillian stage. The evening moves from vignette to vignette as quickly as you blink an eye and it keeps you wanting more.
A ballerina in red sparkly pointe shoes and a thonged tutu dances like a mechanical doll, balancing steadily in her technical turns. Her partner throws his legs like knives in the air into high extensions and dives into the splits with showmanship and ease. A pole dancer does a routine on a carousel high above us and her transitions are seamless. It doesn’t even feel like The Nutcracker until Marie Claire (Laura Careless), McCormick’s version of Clara, enters with Madame Drosselmeyer (Shelly Watson). Watson feels like the emcee of the evening, belting out wonderful tunes, and making the transitions from tableau to tableau feel more like a cabaret then a ballet. Careless is an exquisite dancer who makes even the slightest gesture a poetic and meaningful one.
This is her story and we watch her enter into the world of sassy and spicy sweets played by multi-talented performers. These actor/dancer/singers are constantly surprising. At one point, we watch Marcy Richardson, an aerialist, sing an opera version of Sia’s “Chandelier” while hanging from a hoop by one leg and spinning high above the crowd. The snow scene has masked, horned creatures that appear in white tutus and the magic of it all in the misty haze overtakes the audience. This is a full package production where the talent meets the high production value. It feels like you are in a Bloomingdale’s Christmas window that’s come to life, rather than a show.
The Spanish sections show versatile and seasoned performer Davon Rainey luring Careless into his arms. Among my favorite vignettes is Turkish Delight, where brothers Nicolas and Ross Katen seamlessly transition into the air for their hoop dance. Rarely does aerial dance seem so logical and connected as it does here. The licorice boys are men strapped into corsets and boned skirts controlled by a dominatrix. The dancers oppose Careless’s naivety and delicate nature which are slowly stripped away as she dances with the men. It isn’t all tawdry as the scenes vacillate between slapstick and sensuality. A ridiculous and raunchy sex scene with a stuffed phallus strapped to a woman flies around the stage while the entire cast humps each other in an intense heated fashion.
The Sugar Plum Fairy solo danced by Laura Careless is seductively controlled and effortlessly innocent. She is radiant and breathtaking the entirety of the show. Although she never speaks a word, you feel as if she is. Her acting and persona is superb. Her prince, played by Steven Trumon Gray shows up here for the first time in the evening. We have suspended belief, but it feels a little out of nowhere. To us, Marie Claire throws herself into the arms of a stranger. The duet with two beautiful people coming together has very little foreplay, but is still well danced and convincing, especially if you’ve had a few drinks. The duet ends in a balletic fish lift, which may just be a nod to classical ballet, but works well.
Nutcracker Rouge emphasizes this coming of age story through sexuality. McCormick realizes this in a mature, fantastical light where time suspends. This is a highly entertaining version of The Nutcracker bound to please every person who walks in the door. You won't be disappointed whether you love live music, raucous dancing, sensual acting, glitter, and eye candy of every sort.
More traditional versions of the Nutcracker:
Choreography and Direction by Austin McCormick. Set and Costume Design by Zane Pihlstrom. Lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.
Company XIV Performers are Hilly Bodin, Laura Careless, Lea Helle, Jacob Karr, Nicolas Katen, Ross Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmunden, Davon Rainey, Marcy Richardson, Steven Trumon Gray, Brett Umlauf, Nicole Van Arx, and Shelly Watson.
(Running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 5. Tickets are $50-$175 and are available at ticketmaster.com or by calling 1.800.745.3000. $30 rush tickets are available at the box office beginning two hours prior to curtain for patrons under the age of 30. Limit of one ticket per ID.)
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