[We apologize for the sound quality of the episode. We had some mic issues which caused some problems in editing.]
Robyne: Hi, I’m Robyne.
Wesley: and I’m Wesley.
Robyne: and this is Obstructed View.
Robyne: Today we’re going to start talking about the concept of the production and Austin McCormick’s style.
Wesley: Company XIV is a burlesque circus that has taken over the Minetta Lane Theater and was previously performing across from the Public Theater in Astor Place. Their work survives on incredible design, fascinating choreography, and a high level of technical skill put towards unselfconscious frivolity.
Robyne: A lot of what we saw in this production, and Wesley might be able to speak for the company’s design as a whole, was a self defined new Baroque Ballet. It was a very bare-bones, I would say deconstructed, Rococo, Louis XIV what Wesley would describe as melange. For this production our design team was: Choreography, direction, and sound design by Austin McCormick, set and costume design by Zane Pihlstrom, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette, make-up design by Sarah Cimino, and stage management by Nataliya Vasilyeva.
Wesley: I really cannot stress enough how incredibly fully realized the design of this production was.
Robyne: Something I really loved about this production was how cohesive all of the designs were. The world felt complete because every element was there supporting the others and it was beautiful.
Wesley: Absolutely, the lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette was sublime. The way certain lights hit chandeliers in the space, the way they filled that world using smoke and lights and mirrors everywhere.
Robyne: The use of an old-school, large spot light that sat just off stage but visible to the audience to light one of the performances was divine.
Wesley: So one of the things I really love about Company XIV’s design, and I noticed this last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it really goes to the heart of what makes them work very well, is that they take the best of every era and seamlessly blend them into a cohesive whole. You see design elements that speak to old time Hollywood Golden Age, you see design elements that speak to Weimar and Belle Epoque and Louis XIV and all these fascinating eras, but they never feel intrusive to the world they’re making for us. What makes it work so tremendously well is how the finesse in creation of each of these comes from immense study and immediacy in performance, and that goes I think a lot for Austin McCormick and his trust in his designers, and the designers in their finesse and creativity.
Robyne: And I love how they can take this high style and mix it with contemporary anachronisms. So in this production we got a lot of covers of songs in different languages in different styles that were scintillating.
Wesley: When the sisters enter, for example, they sing the song Sisters from White Christmas, but in German and as conjoined twins – like it’s, it sounds absurd but the joy of it and the oddity of it and the sensuality of it is incredible.
Robyne: There is an aspect of beautiful grotesqueness running through out this production. It gives me the sense that this is how Austin McCormick views humanity, as this divine, glorious, disgusting ‘Thing’, and that is so in-line with my taste. I absolutely love the stylistic world that they created.
Wesley: It’s something that I noticed last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it’s something that I noticed here – the design work from every angle did not give you a moment to question the abilities of anybody involved in this performance.
Robyne: And every element of the design supported the production as a whole. There was nothing that felt out of place and there was nothing that did not feel necessary. I don’t know what could have been removed and left the piece intact.
Wesley: Which is incredible given that this is Baroque style. Because Baroque is, of course, many different layers, many different elements coming in and out. This performance isn’t reductive in design. There are many things happening at any given time, but I wouldn’t wish any of it away.
Robyne: No, it was the illusion of bareness. There is the idea that you as the audience can see all of the contraptions and mechanisms.
Robyne: The use of creating, in the set, in Zane Pihlstrom’s set you can see the frame, a literal giant frame that is used as a proscenium that is offset and angled to the audeience and about halfway into the stage. And it’s gorgeous. You can see all of the contraptions happening on the sides, you can see the performers drawing the curtains. And it works so wonderfully together as a concept. This is clearly a design team that loves and trusts each other and everyone is on the same page.
Wesley: One of my favorite elements in terms of set design, which is then, of course, in cohesion with all the other design elements, was upstage there was a chandelier that was on the ground, and it wasn’t hanging by anything, and every once in a while the lights in the chandelier were lit and it caused this nice, gentle backlight onto the performers. And t’s little things like that, instead of having lights put a chandelier on the ground; the amount of commitment to the images in the designers’ heads. And also I think this all goes to the concept of Cinderella as a story about smoke and mirrors, as a story about finding a way to present yourself differently to the Prince, and find a way to escape. And it all read incredibly, beautifully well.
Robyne: And the overall sense of brokenness, the overall sense of this gentle decay that permeated the entire piece. The costumes I loved for the most part, it was perfectly in line with the style. You really got to see the absolute beauty of the performers moving; which, Austin McCormick’s choreography, in every style, was gorgeous.
Wesley: Yeah, his choreographic work, even on a clinical, academic level, beyond the sensuality of the burlesque, which is so integral to the way he works, is fascinating and is beautiful and could probably hold it’s own if the performers were wearing street clothes. But with the added bonus, with the gravy of it being burlesque, it came so much more alive. And the transcendence of such choreographic work was added to instead of reduced from.
Robyne: And it’s important to state that if you are sensitive to seeing mostly nude bodies this might not be the piece for you, but I guarantee you that you will lose the sense that you are looking at sexually clothed bodies and just be lost in the beauty of their movement.
Wesley: It’s very much like you said, the Rococo paintings. It really comes with that delicacy as if you were walking through the sculpture gardens of Versailles. Like they’re … They are sculptural in the way they are formed. And that doesn’t just go to their physical capabilities, that goes to the way they are presented, the way they are framed by this design team.
Robyne: The performers become part of the art; the movement is all Art. It is non-sexual. It is sexual, but it is not sexualized. It is not for Dionysian pleasure, it is not erotic, it is –
Wesley: There’s nothing prudish about it.
Robyne: There is a joy in their humanity.
Wesley: If you don’t think you will enjoy this performance because you think that they are either be using their sexuality in this burlesque framework as a gimmick, or you are made uncomfortable by seeing the nude form on stage, I think that they will be able to transport you to a level that you will be able to appreciate it on a mere culinary level, at the very least.
I know I keep on harking on the chandelier but there is a moment I remember watching and I looked up and there was a spot light above me hitting a chandelier going away from the stage. That is the kind of meticulousness in vision that Austin McCormick has and in his collaboration these designers to recognize that these are the things that transport us; these are the things that put a flavor in our mouths when we sit in that theater.
Robyne: That level of detail shows that Austin McCormick loves what he does and he loves the art of storytelling and he has found his medium. This production is magic. It will transport you. It is absolutely gorgeous. It is highly stylized, and you might not enjoy the style but you cannot argue the execution.
Wesley: One of the things I enjoy about Austin McCormick’s work is that I have no doubt that he is one of THE Visionaries right now of downtown theater. And the thing about visionaries is that very often they become constraining on their collaborators. I felt each person on this stage is getting to do exactly what they wanted to do when they woke up this morning.
Everybody there brought something to the piece only they could bring. He is not only a visionary, but I’m also getting the sense that he is a collaborator in the construction of his work.
Robyne: But that is not to say that the production is perfect. I did have some major issues with a few elements in this show. There was a BDSM theme that came through in some of the costume designs, for instance the horse. The creation of the horse, which in production, in performance, was gorgeous, but the elements of BDSM that strayed from the Step-Mother, which totally worked and made sense with her, lost me at certain points, and I did not understand why we needed tat pain and suffering for beauty.
Wesley: The BDSM horse didn’t mesh with the sexuality that was being presented to us by the rest of that scene. The rest of that scene was very delicate, very floral, and it was very gilded with a gentle sexuality; and to have the horse brought in, and if it were a plot shift to have that kind of sexuality introduced, would be one thing. But instead, that kind of sensuality is accepted as the same to all the others in that particular scene, which was a little jarring in comparison to the seamlessness of the rest of the design.
Robyne: Completely, and I only worry that that decision will alienate a number of audience members and it will be used as evidence of perversion, when I found the rest of the production to be gorgeous and human and beautiful.
Wesley: And that’s not to say that BDSM couldn’t have been involved in this performance, I mean -
Robyne: No, I think it’s used exquisitely with –
Wesley: The Step-Mother.
Robyne: The Step-Mother
Robyne: I think when it made sense characteristically it worked very well. The cruelty shown threw very well. I just don’t think it was necessary in this moment.
Wesley: I do like the idea that BDSM could be portrayed in a way that is something besides “This is a Broken Person” cause most of the time in performance BDSM is a sign of a person being harmful or sinful and I would like to see it put into a gentler context. But here it just didn’t mesh on the same level that other design aspects meshed.
Robyne: And when we say BDSM we don’t mean there was actual –
Robyne: - flogging happening on stage. But the use of leather, the use of a leather Horse Mask, really lent itself towards that style. And as in 50 Shades of Grey when you do not accurately portray BDSM as the often loving, mutual respectful, however varying from the sexual norm, relationship that it typically is, it becomes this grotesque thing, and that is very unfair to represent.
Wesley: This is a small bump that we are talking about, honestly.
Robyne: Maybe two minutes of the entire production.
Wesley: That I didn’t so much have a problem with as much as I became conscious that I was watching something sexual happen in front of me.
Robyne: It took me out of being transported into this world.
Robyne: For the most part though, the costumes I absolutely loved. I adored The Prince’s costume.
Robyne: I love how – the costumes are, on the men, little more than dance belts.
Robyne: Which is typical of a dance production in which you are highlighting the absolute gorgeousness of the human body. On the women, they are equally as revealing without sexualizing the nudity of their forms; while also giving homage to the eras from which you are borrowing the dances.
Wesley: Mhmm. You see a lot of corsets, you see a lot of the skeletons for hoop skirts and other sort of Monarchal wear.
Robyne: But striped down to simply the hoop, striped down to simply the bare bones. Which, it’s that idea of being bare, that idea of only what is there to lend to the imagination – that you can see that this is what would be underneath
Wesley: And they did wear shoes that were pertaining to the Louis XIV style, which I enjoyed greatly because that was a huge culture part of the culture back then, the shoes.
Robyne: And the shoes were all gorgeous. There was the entire shoe number where The Prince was searching for Cinderella and they brought out pair after pair after pair of absolutely gorgeous, exquisite shoes, that no one wore, that just sat upon the stage to be looked upon as Art themselves in a way that was not flamboyant or exuberant or self-indulgent of the costumer but felt so perfectly in this world.*
*[Since recording this scene has been moved into Act I and is used as the dressing of Cinderella by the Fairy.]
Wesley: This production allows you to indulge, indulge in what you are seeing, indulge in the craftsmanship and in the culinary appreciation of good artistry. And the design team was right there with everything Austin McCormick did.
Robyne: Absolutely. The makeup and the hair work were gorgeous.
The androgyny of the performers during different dance numbers when they would often play opposite their own gender, not as a commentary on gender but as a necessity for the storytelling of now “Now we are in a Ball” situation, was wonderful. And the makeup lent itself so beautifully to that style.
Wesley: And nothing about the sexuality of anybody on stage, nothing about the gender meldings, nothing about that felt unnatural at any point in time. Every flavor offered made sense. You were allowed to appreciate everything on it’s own terms.
Robyne: And the hair was historical and accurate and impressive.
Wesley: There was a wig that comes out in Act III that rivals anything I have seen in Marie Antoinette. There was a boat on it.
Robyne: Yup. It was gorgeous.
Wesley: It was gorgeous.
Robyne: And to delineate between scenes, they had the placards walked across the stage and the, the graphic design there was great. Kyle Ballentine’s detail to the font and the frame of the placards felt like a 1920s inspired Marie Antoinette party. And that is phenomenal, to be able to witness those melding of styles and not feel the alienation.
Wesley: Nor self-congratulatory. I so rarely felt as though somebody was patting themselves on the back for what they just achieved. There was just unbridled joy in show-and-tell here. Often when people make choices stylistically like that, when they make such bold decisions, it comes with the expectation that we will all bow down at their work but here we are allowed to appreciate just what we are witnessing.
Robyne: And to be blunt, when you make such extreme style choices, especially in the burlesque art of being bare, there is often a desperation and a self-indulgence that reeks off of the production and the performances, and I got very little, if any, of that.
Wesley: There were a few moments that I might have felt a glimmer of indulgence on the part of the artists, but by then everything was so well deserved that I almost got joy out of seeing them get washed away with their own work.
Robyne: Absolutely. And that is not to say that there are not moments of self-indulgence in this production that are a part of the storytelling.
Robyne: And when you see that narcissism juxtaposed with the beauty on stage, it is comical, it is masterfully performed comedy. Which, not to harp simply on the design team, the ensemble of this production was incredibly talented. It was very well balanced and I did not feel as if there was a weak link amongst them.
Wesley: Every one of them is incredible in their own right. Many of them showing abilities, that perhaps may only be performed on a stage like this.
Robyne: And the creation of a piece that has so many different dance styles within it is really the only way to showcase all of this talent. I did not feel as if I was being put upon. I did not feel as if any of these dance numbers did not fit. They all worked wonderfully within this production.
Wesley: The performance was done in three acts: first act was Cinderella going to the ball, second act, Cinderella at the ball, third act The Prince finding Cinderella afterwards. In between these acts were entr’actes during which they performed Vaudeville numbers mostly. And a lot of this story was developed using placards and using light levels of dialogue.
Robyne: The Entre Act numbers were wonderful and allowed the Ensemble members to perform solo numbers that were fun and massively impressive.
Wesley: These numbers didn’t often sit in the story nor need they, however, they always did sit well still with the style.
Robyne: The ensemble consists of Hilly Bodin, Lea Helle, Jakob Karr, Nicholas Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, Katrina Cunningham as the Fairy, Davon Rainey as The Step-Mother, Marcy Richardson and Brett Umlauf as The Step-Sisters, Allison Ulrich as Cinderella, and Steven Trumon Gray as The Prince.
Wesley: As you said, I could not point out a weak link among them. Devon Rainey performing The Step-Mother as a BDSM, Drag Queen worked very well in this world.
Robyne: The use of a multi-ethnic cast was not bothering. Often you hear companies argue for production with “Colorblind Casting” that are just painful to watch and the coarseness of the handling of race is often so painful to bare. And that completely fell away into this production, into the characters they were portraying.
Wesley: I feel as though there was nothing that Devon Rainey wanted to do that night than to perform this character. And he suited it very well. And the sisters, Brett Umlauf and Marcy Richardson, not only are obscenely talented peopled, but -
Robyne: Disgustingly talented.
Wesley: Like Cirque Du Soleil levels of talent. But they are also such joys to watch have fun on stage. They clowned, they laughed, they did silly things, and it’s things like this that make me think that talent of this caliber should be allowed to have fun like this all the time. Because when they are this good and this much fun they create such joy in The Step-Sisters. They’re almost impossible to hate as characters because of that, because of all the manic fun they’re having. Allison Ulrich as Cinderella –
Robyne: Was charming.
Wesley: She didn’t have any real stunt, I would say, to perform. She was very much exhibited on a pedestal when it comes to the talents. Her works were much more going for a transcendent form, more balletic, more delicate.
Robyne: Pure, and naïve, and it gave a gorgeous sense of the purity of this character. The earnestness with which she sought the love of her stepfamily, who only showed her abuse, often portrayed as this sort of BDSM abuse without love, cruel, and, in this day and age, hopefully unthinkable, of how a family should work. And the pureness of her love for them was not insulting, because of her performance. It worked so well.
Wesley: And it matched the Cinderella story. It very much matched the story of this girl that was able to transcend the hardships she is going through. And the points of story telling such as the Step-Sisters and the Step-Mother talking about the ball using text bubbles and using placards and using shadow, were such great ways to reinvigorate a story that, especially in the last couple years, we have heard over and over and over again.
Robyne: Especially in the same year that a major motion picture is released that tells the exact story in high style, gorgeous costuming, gorgeous setting.
Wesley: It wasn’t just the motion picture, there has been – the San Francisco Ballet, the motion picture, Juilliard did a production of it, there was the Broadway production of it; this is a story that for some reason has really come back on a level of force that I haven’t really seen of late in fairy tale. I think this might be my favorite version of, no, let me rephrase that. This is my favorite version that I have seen. This is the most reinvigorating of it that I have seen.
Robyne: I did have issue with Katrina Cunningham’s Fairy. Often she felt dismissive and abusive of Cinderella, very uncaring, in that very sexualized manner that the Step-Mother was. And I don’t know if there was a parallel supposed to be happening there or if there was something to be said about beauty or magic or love, but it just did not ring true to me. Her performances were gorgeous. She had a silk headdress filled with balloons that floated above her that was extraordinary, and, again, divine. That sense of ethereal beauty was rampant, but it didn’t feel right in this world.
Wesley: It didn’t come off as a sense of kindness that I‘ve come to expect of The Fairy Godmother. This didn’t feel as much the woman coming down, and despite how high and mighty she is feels for this girl. This almost feels like fairies in the Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Robyne: It felt completely like fairies. It felt like she was an actual fa– not that fairies are real. It felt that she was a more traditional fairy, that was simply having fun, which I like, but I did not like here.
Wesley: Right. Here her vocal prowess, her stage presence, all these undeniable. In terms of characterization, I would have preferred a more gentle warmth in her conduct with Cinderella.
Wesley: Ugh, The Prince.
Robyne: Steven Trumon Gray’s The Prince, despite being a gorgeous human being, was a gorgeous performer. The fun sexual jokes made at The Prince’s expense, the use of The Step-Mother’s sexuality to sway The Prince into choosing one of her daughters, was great and I felt worked but was a little off-putting, every now and then there was just a little too much of it. But his talent, number one, was incredible, both vocally and in every dance in which he performed was a joy to watch.
Wesley: He enters in a bathtub singing in Russian, I think, and that’s where you start to wonder in this production, ‘What next? What next will you be able to surprise me with?” Because by now, I thought I was prepared for anything, I was not expecting a man in a bathtub to sing Russian. And for me to just give in to it.
Robyne: This performance felt indulgent in the way that Champagne is. It felt warm and amber and like a blanket hugging your body.
Robyne: And I don’t know how else to say that. It –
Wesley: No, it’s true.
Robyne: -was so comfortable and warm and fun and happy, and every performer lent to that.
Wesley: And this is something that not many fairy tale adaptations, maybe more now, tend to do, which is put weight on the male love interest and to make this a person who is enticing in terms of a personality. They normally put all their force into the heroine without actually giving any tangible resonance as to why is she after this person. We know why Cinderella is after him.
Robyne: Yeah. I cannot speak highly enough of the ensemble. Hilly Bodin, lea Helle, Jakob Karr, Nicholas Katen, Mailk Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen – the ensemble numbers were incredible. The Can Can, the traditional court dance, the transformation into animals, the, what I will call "Back-up Singer" positions, when The Fairy Godmother was singing – all of their moments of movement and detail and mime and their work in literally the background behind the framed proscenium as they moved behind the curtain to go into performance, had this luxurious, cat like movement to it where they were both apart of the show and watching the show AND watching the audience and that kind of magical, meta-theatrical performance is so fine and so easily mishandled that when it is handled so well comes off with incredible impressiveness.
Wesley: The ensemble are what made the transportation absolute. Their immediacy with us, their ability to be at one with the audience and with the action on stage, and how they weren’t just set dressing, they weren’t just pretty objects on stage, but vital personalities, every one of them. Not all of them had names but I felt as though I knew something about all of their characters in this world, which is incredible for a silent ensemble to achieve.
Robyne: And the attention to detail in the minor characters which they played, for instance the dance teachers for The Step-Sisters, was great and added a level to this production that wouldn’t have been there if that fun competitiveness wasn’t in every aspect of those two dancers’ faces whenever they took looks at each other.
Wesley: There is a confidence to their performances that allowed them to have fun in what they are achieving. So something that I’ve told people who go to see something like Cirque Du Soleil or something like a fine ballet is stop thinking ‘Wow, look at what they’re able to achieve,’ and start thinking, ‘Wow, look at what people can do.’ And I felt that at so many times during this production, that I was seeing actual achievements of the human race. I felt as though I was seeing the body at it’s best, in a sort of Vitruvian Man, idealistic sort of way.
Robyne: The stunt work completely faded into choreography.
Robyne: And it was not stunt for stunt sake. It was not a modern dance company presenting stunt as choreography, it was a choreographer utilizing stunt to tell the story in his choreography, that was gorgeous, all within his style.
Wesley: It reminds me of when I was reading about the Commedia dell'arte ballet. The reason we have dancers en pointe nowadays is because Commedia dell'arte performers would go on their tippy toes and it was a stunt that was astonishing and yet people were like, “This is a stunt. It’s amazing.” But it wasn’t considered High Art. It wasn’t until La Sylphide where Marie Taglioni performed en pointe (La Sylphide video) the whole time when people said this was fine, high art. I am seeing that here.
I am seeing that transformation of things like aerial hoops, things like flips, no longer being just stunt but going towards that high art realm.
Robyne: I have so often seen aerial hoop work simply done as a demonstration of skill but this was aerial hoop work done so well, which, I do have to point out, and this might be spoilers, the use of the hoop work as the final number between Cinderella and The Prince, didn’t work for me. The Pas de Deux was so gorgeous, was incredible, was the absolute highlight of this production, and while I understand that it was necessary to have that as ball number, those two numbers should have been switched. There have been few things I have ever seen in my life that have been as gorgeous as that Pas de Deux.
Wesley: The Pas de Deux that ends Act II or is part of Act II, where The Prince and Cinderella meet is – it was sublime on a grounded level. I agree, I would have liked them to have reversed the two. I would have liked them to meet using the aerial hoops going above the party and on the end of the performance we get Monarchical Ballet at its absolute best. Those dancers, the way they performed in that world, when – the way they interacted with each other’s bodies with both feet on the ground, it’s hard for me to call it a highlight because there’s so many –
Robyne: All of the dances (laughs)–
Wesley: EVERYTHING was just so incredible. And the hoop work was good too, the worst part about it was they did something better earlier.
Robyne: There was no bad choreography.
Robyne: There was no mediocre choreography. There was no good choreography. It was all great, but some of it was so otherworldly in its quality and beauty. That is the image we should have been left with, was THAT final number and then, AND THEN the show ends and everybody is on their feet because, it was so moving that I, I was almost brought to tears.
Wesley: Because Company XIV also is based off of Louis XIV, that’s where they get their name from, and I think that would have also lent itself to the company’s mission, the company’s foundation, to end on that note.
Robyne: To not only end on that note but to have the aerial work above the party, what better way to have physically staged the party so that everyone was looking up at them? If you don’t have a balcony put them in the air and the image of the craned neck of everyone dancing in this painful position to see would give such a physical adaptation of envy and jealousy and lust, that if felt like a very obvious choice.
Wesley: Right. But that’s just to say that this thing sparked our imagination a bit. There was also, in Act III you have the challenge of The Step-Sisters for The Prince. And, once again, both were great, but there was one of them in particular, and I hate to say that because it’s not that –
Robyne: Brett Umlauf’s –
Wesley: Brett Umlauf’s vocal prowess, her capabilities as a singer, was sublime. That is unqualified statement.
Robyne: The operatic number there was great, however, when that number is second to, and is intended to upstage, Marcy Richardson, on a pole dancing pole mounted to a deconstructed carousel, held down by the male performers, while she was pole dancing and singing French opera – there was almost nothing more impressive in this show than that.
Wesley: And it wasn’t her talent itself, it was the fact that they added something to it; the fact that she was upside down, singing French opera. It wasn’t that the talent was better, it’s just that when you add something more, to that extent, it feels like the logical choice, THAT was the one-upmanship.
Wesley: That was her going, “Ha Ha, you think you’ve won. But I’m gonna do it upside down, on a pole, in a split.”
Wesley: I will repeat that. Upside down, on a pole, in a split, singing opera.
Robyne: WELL. Singing opera Well. Hitting notes that … I could never … It was incredible.
Wesley: I don’t know the last time I’ve seen something that astonishing.
Robyne: And again, we are describing this and it sounds like stunt, and it is, but in this world, in this one-upsmanship, in this magical world where Cinderella is given wings by her stepsisters and put in a cage, in THIS world, it made perfect sense, and–
Wesley: -you welcome it. You absolutely welcome every breath that they took and that cage work –
Robyne: Austin McCormick’s sound design was wonderful. The singing of Royals in French, the Fairy Godmother’s song which I, it slips my mind at the moment, (James Young, Dark Star) they were all wonderful choices. But there was … there is an art to the creation of practical sounds on stage and one of the noises I absolutely love is the sound of bird wings on metal cage. I don’t know why. But that is such a textural sensory, and giving us that sound in this, the literal trapping of a Dove in a cage, representing Cinderella and having the Godmother save her, was extraordinary.
Wesley: So one aspect of this performance that I did miss, cause I saw them in their previous space across from the Public Theater doing Nutcracker Rouge, and one of the aspects of Nutcracker Rouge and that space that I preferred was you had a sense that the entire experience from walking in the door was under the artists’ control. And when you walk through the bar to this back hallway, you really got a sense of being transported from beginning to end. I’m sure they’re still finding their footing in the Minetta Lane Theatre; however, there were points inside of the space itself that it felt like the Minetta Lane Theatre hosting this show rather than that sort-of Sleep No More, this is Their Space.
Robyne: Where the door is a portal to a new world.
Wesley: I was looking for that Natasha, Pierre (and the Great Comet of 1812), and also, what I got from them last time, which was, from beginning to end, inside their world, you are under their command and you are invited into their home. Rather, here, at times, I’m sure, this is their first performance in this space, this is the premiere of Cinderella, so there will be some adjusting to this space; however it is much larger and I’m sure that there are certain aspects of it that they don’t have the ability to give to it the same level of detail that they do to the stage.
Also, an integral part of Nutcracker Rouge was audience interaction and given the size of the space, given that they could no longer just walk off the stage and be among the people, but have to walk down a set of stairs off the rose lip. The audience interaction, there was immediacy, but the direct interaction was a very rare aspect to this performance. And simply given the talent, given the amount of personality most of these performers had, I would have appreciated more direct contact with the audience.
Robyne: And it could have been something as simple as The Step-Mother handing out flowers for the audience to toss at her daughters after they finished performing. That kind of almost gimmicky interaction would have worked so wonderfully in this production and would have just, JUST made that transportation, just brought us into this world that little bit more and would have been wonderful.
My biggest issue, over all, would have to be the ending.
Robyne: And Spoilers here *I completely understand, intellectually, the desire to alter the ending of Cinderella to have The Dream end. I felt that it was supported by the concept; I felt the design work supported that kind of broken, bare bones, dismay. Desolation was abound throughout the design. I just simply felt betrayed at the end of the show. It was handled well, it was blunt, I just think it could have been further articulated so it wasn’t so rough on the audience. And we should have been given more of a primer that this dream COULD not been real. It just felt so sudden and almost painful and I’m sure that was part of the intent but I didn’t enjoy that pain. *
Wesley: Furthermore, unlike Nutcracker Rouge, where throughout the performance you watch Clara go inside of this dream world of the Nutcracker, into this graden of earthly delights, as she discovers sensuality and sexuality, until the end when she does this beautiful Pas de Deux, this had no through-line of burlesque developing into this world. If we’d entered and we were in the real world and then the world of burlesque brings her into this dream of Cinderella, that could be one way of seeing it; but when it’s just the burlesque the whole way through and at the end there’s this very depressing coda regarding her being sent back to her abusive mother – that’s the other difference, Nutcracker ends with her waking from the dream but she’s going back t a fine life, when Cinderella wakes up, she’s going back to her abusive mother and dead father.
Robyne: Well, I don’t even know if she went back to them, I’m, it just felt like reality broke. As all of the other performers switched out of their characters and started striping the stage, she was left alone and abandoned. And I got the sense that this is what he was going for, was that this was all just a dream in her head that she had had that night after, I think in the original story she picks out lentils. She does this thing and she falls asleep and then in this version I guess the Fairy Godmother comes to her in her dream and she wakes up from that dream and is back in that world. But it felt even worse than that; it felt like she woke up in a war-torn country alone. And I did not understand.
Wesley: It was difficult to enjoy their intent.
Robyne: Yes. Which was made so much more acute by how gorgeous and detailed and warm and loving the rest of the world was. That champagne feel and then to be left with –
Wesley: -this hangover.
Robyne: Not even that hangover, the sour, tart, acidic bile of that stark reality.
Wesley: And that’s not to say this ruined the evening, that’s not to say we couldn’t –
Robyne: By no means did we walk out of this theater completely bemoaning that ending, it was a thirty second tip on the rest of this production that –
Wesley: I just didn’t feel that I needed.
Robyne: Nor did I.
Wesley: I personally would love to see them come out with a CD once they’ve finished their next two performances using the music of these performances. The music is always beautiful. They use some classical, such as Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel, they do revamps of new pieces like Royals in French; I would love to see that happen. And I look forward to seeing them really taking over the Minetta Lane Theatre and making it entirely their own.
Wesley: I say this without any … I check my hyperbole, Austin McCormick is one of the best visionaries I can think of in the downtown theater scene. I can’t think of anybody who has truly created a singular vision and taken over a space to create it, and with such level of detail and craftsmanship. There is a dedication and a love to this world he is making, that I don’t know exists elsewhere. This is a unique theatrical experience perhaps in the country, but definitely in New York, and I would love to see this become a permanent staple of New York.
Robyne: So would I.
Wesley: So I guess the final question is: Is it worth the $40-$100 priced ticket?
Robyne: Absolutely. More so than many Broadway shows I’ve seen recently. The quality of performance, the quality of talent, the amount of time you get in this world, is so worth the ticket price. I full heartedly recommend seeing this show.
Wesley: The tickets could cost twice as much and I’d be saying these words, “Pay and go se it.” This is dance at it’s finest and this is theater craftsmanship better than most that you will see.
Robyne: Cinderella runs until November 15th at The Minetta Lane Theatre. You can find tickets at TicketMaster.com or CompanyXIV.com. As always, you can join in on the conversation at Obstructed-view.com on Facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on Twitter, Soundcloud, or Tumblr, or email us at TheObstructedViewPodcast@Gmail.com. This is Robyne.
Wesley: And Wesley.
Robyne: And Remember.
Wesley: Never be a Wallflower.
[All images taken from Company XIV's Instagram feed]