Company XIV‘s dance-theater productions are always colorful and extravagant and often glamorously raunchy, and the company may have outdone itself with its extraordinary new Cinderella.
Conceived, directed and choreographed by Austin McCormick and based on the 1697 Charles Perrault fairy tale, this concoction of cabaret, ballet, opera, burlesque, and circus acrobatics marshals technical precision and an astounding battery of onstage talent, all in service to a story ideally suited to McCormick’s aesthetic.
The score mingles familiar songs – Irving Berlin’s “Sisters, Sisters,” Lorde’s “Royals” – with operatic arias and baroque dance pieces. Along with amped-up and finely tuned dancing and acting skills, a number of the performers have impressive singing voices that they can project from hard-to-believe physical positions.
We first meet the Prince (Steven Trumon Grey) reclining in a bathtub, from which difficult position he sings Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Heart” in full operatic voice. Later, the first stepsister (Marcy Richardson) makes her case to the Prince singing “Ah! Je ris de me voir” from Gounod’s Faust while pole dancing atop a carousel, something I’d wager Anna Netrebko has never been asked to do.
But it isn’t the individual feats of talent and skill that make this show a triumph, it’s the company’s execution of McCormick’s seamless theatrical conception. To take just a couple of details as examples:
The show’s wordless Cinderella (Allison Ulrich) doesn’t just wait on her stepmother and stepsisters – she’s their table. Yet she makes plaintive, futile efforts to show affection for her impossibly vain step-dam.
Instead of a wizardly auntie, Katrina Cunningham’s Fairy seems a manifestation of Cinderella’s own secret desires. Costumed skimpily (in sync with the show’s burlesque aesthetic) but in similar colors to Cinderella’s, she first appears after Cinderella’s adoptive kin have teased “the poor girl” (as a gaudy narrative sign describes her) with a false invitation to the ball. Placing wings on Cinderella’s back, they lock her in a birdcage whose insides she sadly climbs about, in a bit of subtly powerful choreography. Attending Cinderella as the story progresses, singing the silent heroine’s feelings in a dark, soulful alto, the Fairy continues as a tucked-away mental presence.
Winsome and mutely charismatic, Ulrich’s Cinderella radiates half-shy energy throughout her dances. When she and the Prince first meet at the masked ball, the spiral staircase on which their sublime dance begins suggests the mystified circling and the blinders of freshly minted romance. Remarkably, the pair’s chemistry is just as evident during their very different, circus-style pas de deux at the end.
Davon Rainey is both commanding and hilarious, a tall black male dancer playing an evil stepmother as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Brett Umlauf as the second stepsister sings the “Jealousy Tango” with smoky grace and glam conviction. She and Richardson are comically aggressive throughout, whether puffed up and conjoined singing “Sisters, Sisters” or firing a dueling pistol at one another as the Prince’s quest for the foot that fits the slipper kicks into high gear.
But again, it’s not the moments or even the dazzling individual numbers, it’s the whole picture that transports us into a magical world of tongue-in-cheek glitz and deeply felt emotion rolled together into a densely packed concoction of wonders. Amazing costumes and sets by Zane Pihlstrom, funny entr’acte dance numbers, and smaller touches like the helium-balloon headdress, the drinks-and-snacks vendor in the aisles, and this company’s smoke-machine addiction work foot-in-slipper with McCormick’s marvelously inventive, alternately boisterous and touching choreography to turn the show into a happening – and one that should not be missed.
Company XIV’s CINDERELLA (2015) from Company XIV on Vimeo.