Austin McCormick—founder, choreographer, and artistic director of Company XIV—is back with his signature brand of unique storytelling that mashes up Baroque dance, circus, opera, ballet, inventive design, and just about anything else he can toss in his theatrical kitchen sink. But in spite of the vast array of genres converging in his latest endeavor, Snow White (playing through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre), lacks cohesion and emotionally engaging storytelling.
Returning, once again, to the Brothers Grimm as source material, McCormick leans heavily on the German influence, incorporating an unintelligible narrator to shuffle along the familiar story. We follow Snow White (Hilly Bodin)’s battle for survival against the evil Queen (Laura Careless), who would like nothing more than to see the girl dead so she can reign as the fairest one of all. Banishing her to the forest, the Queen orders a huntsman to kill the girl, but unable to commit the crime, he kills a forest creature instead. In a bit of ineffective stagecraft, the Queen—keen on eating the girl’s innards—hacks away at a suspended block of ice that glows red from within.
Other theatrical effects, particularly the use of live video feed, deliver much more punch. Snow White—like a cat with nine lives—defends herself against the Queen’s continued vicious attacks. This includes an exquisitely choreographed sequence where the Queen disguises herself as a bodice-selling pauper and literally tries to constrict her to death. But to no avail, for when Snow White later falls under the spell of a poisoned apple and is placed in a glass coffin (imaginatively created through a ritualistic envelopment of plastic wrap), the Prince (Courtney Giannone) enters to deliver a resurrecting kiss followed by a celebratory “Rhoedenrad”-inspired performance, a German circus act where the performer manipulates a hoop or wheel as it rolls about like a coin.
In the Company XIV tradition, the multi-talented ensemble dances, sings, and flips their way through the production, outfitted in fantastical (if occasionally clumsy) costumes by Zane Pihlstrom. But McCormick is unable to extract a narrative that engages the audience beyond the wow factor. Bodin and Careless (as Snow White and the Queen respectively) are captivating, setting the bar high in terms of technique and utter abandonment. The others do due diligence with McCormick’s athletic choreography but fail to capture a deeper sense of connection to the source material.
Those who haven’t seen Company XIV before will revel in its imaginative interpretation. If you are familiar with McCormick’s work and a fan, as I am, you might find yourself feeling a bit restless at this production and wondering how the company may next interpret “happily ever after.”
Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through March 12
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him online at @roodeloo.