Austin McCormick's Company XIV is back with another extravagant, sexually charged dance-theater piece of the kind only they can produce. Where last year's Judgment of Paris drew on the young choreographer's study of French baroque dance (pre-classical ballet), the dancing in Le Serpent Rouge is more modern; but again the company creates a visionary re-imagining of a classic story, this time the legend of Adam, Eve, and Lilith.
In this telling, Adam (John Beasant III) is first paired with Lilith (Yeva Glover), but although the sex is great, he rejects her because she has "no soul" and what he needs is a soulmate. Nevertheless Adam continues to desire Lilith, both before and after the Fall, and this provides the production's ongoing tension as the wonderful cast of five dances through elegant and sensual enactments of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Narrating is Gioia Marchese as a Ringmistress in an outfit worthy of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, also functioning as the Devil, constantly proffering the infamous apple of the Tree of Knowledge to Eve (Laura Careless). Appropriately, the set is a circle, both cagelike and circusy. Coiling through is the serpent, evoked by Davon Rainey, who also delivers several interesting and illuminating (and highly crowd-pleasing) drag numbers.
But none of this factual description conveys the lurid opulence of the production. Swings, a giant chandelier hung low to the ground, a focused rain of water, a huge mirror (for Eve to lose herself in), light bondage, near-nudity, and the world's first threesome are only a few pieces of the puzzle. The choreography is continually expressive and beautifully realized by the amazing dancers; the movement is descriptive, never abstract, occasionally a little repetitious, but the spell holds for the production's full 70 minutes.
The score plays a big part in establishing and maintaining the mood. As with Judgment of Paris, it's sewn together from a variety of sources, this time from the likes of Eartha Kitt and Peggy Lee, Cecilia Bartoli and Nina Simone. The text includes a Bukowski poem and passages inspired by Thomas Mann along with elements from the Bible and the Apocrypha. While dance predominates, the cast prove themselves capable actors. Ms. Glover is both regal and slinky, Ms. Careless a package of joy and pain and anger successively, Mr. Beasant a compact, darkly human Everyman. Ms. Marchese and Mr. Rainey are pure over-the-top delight, as they were in Judgment of Paris.
Given the dark material, there's surprisingly little menace in the tale. One gets the sense that Mr. McCormick and his troupe take such pleasure in their work that real evil, even in circus guise, can find no purchase on their stage. But no matter; this is a richly woven, thoroughly rewarding entertainment, well worth the excursion to the company's beautifully converted tow-truck pound near the Gowanus Canal. Get tickets before it closes on June 6!
Photo by Steven Schreiber. (L-R): Davon Rainey and Yeva Glover