Another season, a new ballet-burlesque extravaganza from Company XIV. Is there anything left to say about Austin McCormick’s sweaty spectacles of sex, opera, glitter, gluttony, and circus magic? Actually there is. While Seven Sins doesn’t break major new ground from a technical performance standpoint, and doesn’t have the narrative through-line of some earlier shows (like Nutcracker Rouge and Queen of Hearts), it marks an evolution in emotional and artistic maturity by the choreographer-director and his talented team.
To begin with, Seven Sins boasts one of McCormick’s most beautiful pieces to date in an early solo dance by Adam (a lean and brilliant Scott Schneider on the night I attended). Set to music by Nino Rota, it’s the quiet, hardly-dare-breathe setup for the surfeit of sinfulness to come.
This visually stunning, musically audacious depiction of the traditional “seven deadly sins” is contextualized in the story of Adam and Eve. Eve (Danielle Gordon at the performance I saw) is created from Adam’s rib in a clever twist on the old woman-sawn-in-half magic show trope. She joins Adam in a relatively circumspect dance to the unctuous tones of Dean Martin. Then the snake arrives, with music by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and with it a cornucopia of decadence. After a comically staged fig-leaf duet danced in flesh-colored unitards with cartoonish private parts painted on, Adam and Eve go on to experience the sins in gaudy progression.
Arias are sung by singers in cages and suspended in the air. Acrobatic feats of strength twirl above our heads. McCormick deploys tap dancing, most often traditionally identified with joy, in the aggressive service of the sin of Wrath. Music from centuries past (Donizetti, Offenbach), 20th-century crooners, and current pop (Cardi B, Katy Perry, Florence and the Machine) keeps the action swinging, in some cases literally, through Vanity, Greed, Jealousy, and the rest. Two intermissions allow audience members to partake of Gluttony, with decadent snacks and luxuriously conceived mixed drinks made with locally distilled spirits.
One of McCormick’s gifts is to weave cast members’ oversized individual talents into seamless ensemble productions that are nonetheless studded with star turns. The multitalented cast offers many thrilling performances. They excel at engaging audience members on a gut level, a direct reflection and magnification of McCormick’s particular genius.
They’re aided by Company XIV’s own custom-designed theater, which allows the creative team to design productions that feel quite immersive. Without asking audience members to literally participate, the dancers and singers in their alternately skimpy and extravagant burlesque raiment draw us close even as they loom larger than life.
Having seen a number of Company XIV productions over the years, I perceive a maturing style in this one. The subject matter, as usual, offers plenty of room for going overboard, and naturally this show does just that. But McCormick also uses the decadent specifics of sinfulness to comment visually in quite a deep way on the twisted complexities of the human condition. Towards the end, Adam and Eve enact a second pas de deux, set to Dinah Washington’s beautiful “This Bitter Earth.” When the lithe Eve walks on Adam’s long back, all the frailties of life, and of love in particular, lie naked before our eyes.
Visit the Company XIV website for scheduling and tickets for Seven Sins.