French poet Charles Perrault (1628-1703) might not know what to make of Company XIV’s wildly sensual and dynamic interpretation of his 1697 fairytale, Cinderella. But it’s hopeful that the progressive thinker, who didn’t pen his first story until age 70, would be delightfully surprised by Austin McCormick’s baroque mash-up.
The story is familiar to all. Young girl (Allison Ulrich) is abandoned to the care of her wicked stepmother and equally wretched stepsisters after the untimely death of her parents. In this case, “Step-Mother” is portrayed by Davon Rainey, an ebony tower of fierceness with legs that belong on the catwalk, and his garish offspring (Marcy Richardson and Brett Umlauf) are equipped with voices that deftly traverse from classical to pop.
Such is the secret potion behind McCormick’s wonderment. Founded in 2006 as a unique blend of circus, Baroque dance, ballet, opera, live music, and lavish design, his body of work and the ensemble tasked with performing it continue to find strength in a unique multidisciplinary style.
Dissected, you may realize that elements of McCormick’s theatrical vocabulary appear beyond the scope of Company XIV. Sure, you can see a multi-million dollar Cirque du Soleil spectacle in Las Vegas or catch a burlesque show at New York City’s Slipper Room. The Met will deliver a cacophony of arias if you can afford them and Broadway is at capacity with belters in pin spots vying for your attention. But there is something about McCormick’s eye that is wholly unique.
From a choreography perspective, McCormick’s Julliard dance degree shines through as his specificity of movement bristles with athleticism and nuance. His further training at The Conservatory of Baroque Dance pays homage to Perrault’s era. Add circus elements that include an aerial ring (used for a seductive duet between Ulrich and Steven Trumon Gray, who plays the Prince) and pole dance (miraculously performed by Richardson while delivering “Ah! Je ris de me voir” from Gounod’s opera, Faust) and the evening gleefully unravels into a bacchanalian feast for the senses.
Helping to create the illusion are lighting designers Jeanette Yew and Devin Jewett, who cast saturated hues from every angle of the Minetta Lane Theatre. Set and costume designer Zane Pihlstrom works wonders with boning and sheer fabrics and it’s a feat unto itself that all of the performer’s privates stay contained. Of course, not much is covered and the show is intended for audiences 16 and older.
Beyond the flesh (and plenty of it), McCormick’s fluid exploration of sexuality and sensuality ripples throughout the evening. His male ensemble, mostly in heels, delivers an undeniable androgynous eroticism, while the female members exhibit strength and athleticism that often defies what mainstream media may consider “feminine.”
If there is one minor criticism to be made, it is that Cinderella lacks a visceral through line. Loose moments of improvised dialogue (particularly from the Step-Mother) diminish the power of the choreography, and missed moments (such as Cinderella and the Prince’s first meeting) leave the audience entertained but not necessarily emotionally invested. Amid all of the flourishes, a number of deliberate respites might help the show resonate more deeply.
That being said, Cinderella is an explosion of talent. Forget triple-threats, the dozen performers that grace the stage have an unlimited arsenal to offer. Fortunately, McCormick is a sharp shooter.
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
Through November 15
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @roodeloo.