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Dance-Theater Review: ‘Nutcracker Rouge’

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Austin McCormick’s ballet/jazz/modern fusion aesthetic was made for the Nutcracker. The dancers and artistes of his Company XIV in association with The Saint at Large have opened Nutcracker Rouge, their characteristically risqué amalgam of dance, theater, and burlesque not at their usual Gowanus haunt but at the Off-Broadway Minetta Lane Theatre from for a six-week holiday run. It’s a glorious blast of beautiful adult fun.

(L-R): Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer (singing in center) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Robert Zash

(L-R): Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer (singing in center) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge
Photographer: Robert Zash

Among the many gaudy dance numbers that convey this telling of the thin story of a girl and her Nutcracker Prince, one that comes early in Act II concisely sums up the show’s style. While one acrobatic dancer twists and twines her body about a ring suspended high above the stage, another climbs and twirls in similar fashion around a pole. Just like that, the line between family entertainment and “lower” arts vanishes. This show is not family entertainment. Everywhere raunchy imagery mixes with lovely costumes, graceful movements, pop music of various eras, Vivaldi, and pieces from Tchaikovsky’s timeless, ridiculously catchy Nutcracker Suite in both original and slinky-jazz versions.

The magical world discovered by this version’s Clara, here re-named Marie Claire, is colorful, flouncy, sexualized, but also artistically refined. The candy-themed numbers include S&M imagery, a bawdy birthday-cake surprise, impressive Cirque du Soleil-style hoop and strength acts, a graceful and acrobatic pas-de-deux that becomes almost violently erotic, a romantic company number at the climax that slides effortlessly from ballet to dynamic modernism, and a lot more. If forced to choose a choreographic high point, I’d select the three couples of Act I’s “Candy Violets” act, but throughout the gifted company carries off the dancing with both fiery energy and cool poise.

(L-R): Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer, Laura Careless as Marie-Claire and Jeff Takacs as Monsieur Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker Rouge, photo by Phillip Van Nostrand

(L-R): Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer, Laura Careless as Marie-Claire and Jeff Takacs as Monsieur Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker Rouge, photo by Phillip Van Nostrand

The stage’s modest size surely posed choreographic and execution challenges for a production this ambitious. But the technical achievements in three dimensions are of a very high caliber, without being ostentatious. Enhancing McCormick’s mosaic choreography and humming direction are the talents of a skillful creative team that includes Zane Pihlstrom (set and costume design) and Jeanette Yew (lighting). As co-emcees Drosselmeyer and Mrs. Drosselmeyer, Jeff Takacs (who also wrote the text) narrates with twisted gravitas and Shelly Watson sings with a winning pop-operatic glow. Meanwhile, anchoring a Company XIV production not for the first time is the divine dancer Laura Careless, who brings an ideal balance of gravity and innocence to the transformational role of Marie Claire.

Two warnings: There’s a lot of stage fog at the outset. And leave the kids at home – the show has plenty of near-nudity and sexual situations. (For reasons that have never made much sense to me, our culture frowns on permitting children to experience sexually suggestive art, while encouraging them to sit at home playing violent video games and watching countless assaults and murders play out on TV.)

For dance aficionados, lovers of the comfortably outlandish, and anyone who appreciates spectacular creativity, Nutcracker Rouge runs through Jan. 5. Catch it this holiday season. For information and tickets click here.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.