The Endless Pleasure of Rouge

If there's any theater company instantly able to capture a mood and entice the senses all in the course of one evening, it is undeniably Austin McCormick's Company XIV. The company, founded by McCormick in 2006, combines the high elegance of the late-18th century with the smoky jazz cabarets of the early-20th century to make for one divinely decadent romp. I had the pleasure of reviewing their previous outing, Nutcracker Rouge last year and of that show, I wrote the following: "McCormick’s choreography and staging displays a keen understanding of (and obvious passion for) aesthetics and perfectly captures the pulchritude of performance. At every turn, there is something that catches your eye." Indeed, for their current show, Rococo Rouge — mounted at the company's new residency, XIV (428 Lafayette Street) — McCormick and company do it again, Rococo-style.

Unlike its holiday-inspired predecessor, Rococo Rouge has less of a linear narrative and more of a presentation of several acts all connected by a thematic thread: that of love and its destructive dangers. The company delves into these themes headfirst, each act featuring both classical and modern music. Some standouts include a duo of aerial artists spinning beautifully in mid-air on a lyre, as Shelly Watson (whom readers will remember as Nutcracker's Mrs. Drosselmeyer) belts out "Song to the Moon," from Antonín Dvorák Rusalka; Laura Careless (previously Marie-Claire in Nutcracker) dancing a love-torn solo, while Katrina Cunningham teases us with a rendition in the style of Yael Naim's cover version of Britney Spears' "Toxic" (pictured below right). Meanwhile, company member Davon Rainey fiercely struts — bedazzled jock-strap and all — along to the famous "Habanera" aria from Bizet's Carmen; and Ms. Cunningham graces the stage once more as both singer and performer in an enthralling performance of Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," with electric guitar accompaniment by Rob Mastrianni. What makes it enthralling is not just Cunningham's exotic voice and daring striptease, but also the showers of glitter slowly raining down on the entire stage, making its presence known quietly but just as effectively as Ms. Cunningham does herself. (The resulting effect is so stunning that the photograph above hardly does it justice.)

Indeed, just as in Nutcracker, the night's mood is not only devised by McCormick and his band of performers, but also the company's creative team. Zane Pihlstrom's sequined corsets and draped confections cut attractive lines and show skin in all the right places, each sequin and jewel perfectly reflecting the light from Jeanette Yew's design. Yew's lighting particularly shines during a duet between what are supposed to be two lovers dancing in front of a spotlight (Cailan Orn and Steven Trumon Gray in Jean Cocteau's Le Bel Indifférent), not unlike that of a camera, suggesting a voyeuristic mood. This sense of voyeurism pervades through almost every performance, as even the actors and singers seem to look on whilst someone takes center stage. While this may be the case, neither performer nor design element — or even enchanting stage trickery — take precedent over the other, and this is due to McCormick's expertise as conceiver, choreographer, sound designer and director. These elements come together and coalesce not only to create such unforgettable images, but also to immerse the audience further into the world McCormick has created. Intoxicating and heady, it's a world of danger, suspense, intrigue, wonder, delight...and desire. It's a world filled with gender-bending cyr wheel artists and captivating pole-dancers, of snapping lace fans and feathered headdresses; a serpentine underworld you're only too glad to be ensnared in.

The world of Rococo Rouge may be toxic, but the taste will have you only craving more.

Rococo Rouge runs until Nov. 2 in a limited 8-week engagement at Company XIV’s new intimate, 100-seat theater-lounge home, XIV, located at 428 Lafayette St., between Astor Place and East 4th St. in New York City. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. The Saturday, Oct. 25 show is at 10 p.m. and there is no show on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Check the website for the latest updates and specific show times. Tickets range from $55 to $125. Visit or call 212-677-1447. The show contains partial nudity — 21 and over admitted. The running time is approximately 90 minutes.

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