COMPANY XIV POLISHES AN OLD STORY
by William Gooch
published June 5, 2009
Le Serpent Rouge!
now playing at Company
through June 6
For those of us familiar with Austin McCormick's work, innovative choreography and layered motifs is par for the course and part
of his charm. Who else but this terpsichorean wunderkind would take a musty, old Greek myth about war, beauty and jealous Gods
(The Judgment of Paris) and filter it through the lens of tight corsets, Busby Berkeley-inspired choreography and contemporary
dialogue that gets at the core of man's desire to control his own destiny.
In Company XIV's recent work, Le Serpent Rouge!, the age-old Judeo-Christian creation story is infused with new sensibilities and creative
verve. McCormick's burlesque-inspired approach to this otherwise dusty tale takes a prescient perspective on choice. Would Adam and Eve still
choose enlightenment if they had experiential knowledge of good and evil? And to complicate matters, the apocryphal Lilith, Adams's first wife,
plays foil to Eve's quest for self-actualization and Adam's penchant for idealized companionship over stolid conjugality. In this, Adam is not
unlike the dreamer James in La Sylphide or the nobleman Albrecht in Giselle, who both struggle with otherworldly notions of
intimacy. Include a reptilian drag queen and a voluptuous narrator/ringmistress, and Le Serpent Rouge turns into a spicy narrative that is
much more than a story about man's fall from grace.
Set designer, Zane Philstrom's Garden of Eden is a proscenium-styled, ringed circus complete with trapeze and macabre circus elements.
Philstrom's realization is a masterpiece in modern construction and functionality. Swinging trapezes serve as metaphors for the polarities of
good and evil; lowered chandeliers speak to the initial glitter and titillation of carnality, and revolving mirrors reflect the psychic
contortions of the soul.
McCormick's choreography in Le Serpent Rouge! employs many of the same dance elements and nuances audiences came to love
in Judgment of Paris. There are the kittenish undulations, come-hither extensions and McCormick's signature titillating use of
rond de jambe par terre. Though McCormick's choreographic style is unique and compelling, his brilliant company of dancer/actors
elevates McCormick's unusual approach to dance theater from an interesting assemblage of movement styles and concepts to an insightful
purview into the human condition.
And speaking of dancer/actors, Davon Rainey as the drag queen/serpent renders a performance that is a well-crafted conjuring of delicious
coquettes and torch-singing chanteuses. Under Rainey's spell, Peggy Lee's “Is That All There Is” turns into a wanton plea for validation, and
Eartha Kitt's “A Woman Wouldn't Be A Woman” a gender-bending exercise in seduction and conquest.
It is often said that youth is wasted on the young. That may be true of those young folks who believe everything starts and begins with them.
Austin McCormick knows better than that. By borrowing from the past and creating thought-provoking performance art, he is expanding the dance
theater lexicon, and giving new voice to the complexities of the human experience.
Company XIV performs Le Serpent Rouge! through June 6 at 303 Bond Street, Brooklyn, NY. For more information, go to companyxiv.com.
williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com
all photos are by Company XIV
read William Gooch’s interview with Company XIV dancer Davon Rainey