Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

Company XIV’s Snow White – Off Broadway Dance Theater Review 

 

DANCE THEATRE WITH A MISSION

 

picture - Snow WhiteTheater Review and Interview

by William Gooch

published January 10, 2010

 

Company XIV’s Snow White

now playing Off Broadway at Company XIV

through January 17

 

Though I have reviewed Company XIV several times and have been a champion of artistic director Austin McCormick’s incredible vision of what dance/theatre can be, Company XIV’s new production of Snow White exceeded my expectations, twofold. When I was first invited to review this production, I must admit I was not excited by this children’s fairy tale that has been performed with minor success by such illustrious dance companies as Paul Taylor Dance Company and Ballet Philippines. However, my curiosity was piqued by how Company XIV, a company known for its saucy, cutting edge productions, would pull off such a saccharine, happily ever after tale. True to form, Austin McCormick has manipulated the sugary sweet tale of benevolent dwarfs, innocence and true love into a vibrant tale that has intrigue, nuance, and titillating double entendre, while still remaining a dance/theatre work that parents can take their children to.

 

For this production of Snow White, McCormick sticks closer to the more ominous Grimm Brothers’ narrative that highlights the relationship between Snow White and the evil queen rather than the more familiar, bucolic Disney version which expanded the role of the seven dwarfs. Still, McCormick does mimic Disney’s evil queen’s fascination with beauty. In place of one masculine voice as the clairvoyant of the mirror, McCormick uses a trio of sopranos.

 

This production also incorporates a wider lexicon of dance styles that range from partnered pointe work, mazurkas and Baroque minuets to contemporary techniques. And McCormick’s musical choices extend from Glazunov, Yiddish folk music and Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim to snappy jazz arrangements.

 

Rather than employ actors as the seven dwarfs, McCormick uses scrim effects and hand puppets. These elements push the story along without placing too much emphasis on Snow White’s relationship with the seven dwarfs.

 

With Company XIV’s Snow White, Austin McCormick has lifted a familiar tale of poisoned apples and butterscotch charm from the Disney catalog of good over evil and produced a layered work that speaks to the things that every human soul longs for: security, community and a meeting of souls. And in this, Company XIV is accomplishing what many dance/theatre companies have yet to accomplish: entertaining while speaking to the human condition. Mission accomplished, this I know for sure!! 

 

During their current run, Company XIV graciously and candidly spoke to me about their love of performing, their motivation and their love of Austin McCormick’s choreography.

 

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Austin, why did you form your own dance company?

 

When I was at Juilliard I excelled in my dance composition classes. The great thing about Juilliard is that being a student there is in some ways like being in a dance repertory company, in that you dance in works by lots of different choreographers. So while at Juilliard, I felt like I had the experience of dancing in a company even though technically I was still a student. While I was at Juilliard, I also danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Those experiences made me want to extend my vision of dance and theatre in a company that expressed and facilitated that vision.

 

Why did you decide to keep your focus in Baroque dance?

 

Austin McCormick:  Baroque dance is so in my body and such an integral part of my formative training. I don’t feel I can or need to separate that movement style from my choreographic vision. Even at Juilliard in composition class, it would pop up in my work. It is also such a rich period to draw from in terms of art, music and theatre.

 

Some of you were fellow students with Austin McCormick at Juilliard and some met him through the audition process. What was it about Austin and his choreography that piqued your interest?

 

Laura Careless, company artist: When Austin was developing some of his choreography at Juilliard he asked me to be a part of his work. In that I had never studied Baroque dance, I had to learn that dance genre. As we began to work together, I realized that Austin was interested in incorporating your personality into his choreography and that was very appealing to me.

 

Davon Rainey, company artist: While we were at Juilliard I knew Austin had intentions of having his own company. Laura and me were in his first piece at Juilliard. This piece was very baroque in nature so it was a real stretch for both of us. We were also in his first film in 2005, and we could see how he was bringing the elements of dance and theatre together.

 

Yeva Glover, company artist: Austin auditioned people at the performing arts school I attended in Vancouver. I auditioned and Company XIV was my first professional job.

 

Gioia Marchese, company artist: I knew Austin from Santa Barbara. We did youth theatre together. Later Austin went on to concentrate in dance and I concentrated in theatre. When Austin formed Company XIV, he originally asked me to manage the company. At the time I was going back and forth between NYC and California and the idea of having full-year employment was appealing. I was also attracted to the concept of combining movement and theatre. There are not many repertory resident theatre companies anymore and with Company XIV I have the opportunity to be a part of a repertory dance theatre ensemble.

 

Nick Fessette, company artist: I was straight out of college and had just moved to NYC and I heard about the audition. I did some research on the company and knew that I wanted to be a part of what Austin was doing.

 

When I auditioned for Company XIV, Austin originally wanted someone older and I had to audition many times to get into the company. It was a long audition process. [Lots of laughter] I currently act in all the works in the Apple Trilogy. I am the narrator/huntsman in Snow White, Menalaus in The Judgment of Paris and Adam in Le Serpent Rouge. As Adam in Le Serpent Rouge, I have do some dancing and partnering which is a real challenge for me because I am not a trained dancer.

 

Brooke Bryant, collaborating musical artist: I belong to a musical trio called Charites (Three Graces) that specialize in Baroque music. A couple of years ago we saw an advertisement for The Judgment of Paris and that piqued our interest. We had done some work with Dances of Vice, a Baroque-themed party entertainment company, and through them we heard that Austin was looking for musicians for some performances he was doing at Juilliard. So we collaborated with him on that piece. And when he asked us to collaborate with him on a long-term project (Snow White), we were thrilled to do so.

 

Had any of you danced with other companies prior to performing with Company XIV?

 

Yeva Glover: This was the first job I got right out of performing arts school.

 

Laura Careless: It was my first job out of Juilliard. I had danced a lot of works by different choreographers while at Juilliard, but nothing interested me more than what Austin was doing.

 

Davon Rainey: I had danced with other companies, but I loved Austin’s vision and the great way he has of telling a story.

 

How did you, especially the men, adjust to dancing and performing in corsets?

 

Gioia Marchese: Originally, I was shocked. The first time you wear a corset you think that there is no possible way I can bend in this contraption. But, eventually, you find a way to move. Austin in his vision understands that movement is going to be adjusted for each individual. He doesn’t want to hear from us that we can’t do a certain movement, he wants us to do what we can do at the time, understanding that in time we will find a way to make the movement work. Now that I have been doing this for a while, I love wearing corsets. I am a full-figured woman, so for me the corset gives me a lot of support and it accentuates the shape and makes me more erect and powerful.

 

Brooke Bryant: Singers and actors are trained in modern technique to breathe by expanding the stomach. You can’t use this technique with a corset on, so you find a different way to support your voice. The external support that the corset gives really empowers the voice. It gives you a different posture and strength.

 

Laura Careless: As a dancer you become more aware of the parts of the body that you can move more freely. For example, I pay more attention to my arms and hands while corseted because I can move them more freely than my torso. And that new awareness has brought a different nuance to my movement that wasn’t there before.

 

I am noticing that the men are slow to answer. [Laughter]

 

Nick Fessette: Well, I haven’t had to wear a corset in the roles I am performing.

 

Laura Careless: Not yet, anyway. [Lots of laughter]

 

That brings me to another question. How have the men adjusted to dancing in heels?

 

Davon Rainey: At first it was a big adjustment. I mean they looked really pretty at first, and then I had to move in them and the movement challenges were a shock. I thought because I had had all this classical ballet training it would be easier than it was. Now, it’s become second nature.

 

How is it to learn Baroque dance technique as opposed to other dance techniques?

 

Yeva Glover: When I first started with the company we spent the first 3 or 4 months in Baroque boot camp. Every day in rehearsal we spent two hours going over arms and steps. It was like learning a new technique from scratch. My ballet training really helped but the placement of the arms and shoulders was a major adjustment.

 

Company XIV is a dance theater ensemble. That said; did any of you have to study any particular acting technique?

 

Gioia Marchese: We have been very fortunate to work with Faith Simpson who teaches an acting technique called “the Lucid Body.” It is based on the chakras and creating characters based on chakra work. I have taken lots of acting techniques and this is the most accessible technique I have ever studied that marries spiritual/character work with your body.

 

Laura Careless: Now, I believe it so second nature to find more dramatic motivation for movement that it’s hard now to dance without it. People come to dance for different reasons. Some people become dancers because they love the physicality, others for expressive reasons. For me, now that I am in a troupe that connects movement with theatre, I think it would be difficult to only be motivated by the physicality of dance.

 

Although I am new in this collaboration I think the people that are drawn to this type of work are those people who are performers first. Some people sing and dance without acting. Everyone in this company is here to perform and transmit emotion and we do that through different channels.

 

Company XIV is a very young company and NYC is a very expensive city to live in. How do you maintain yourselves financially?

 

Gioia Marchese: Although I am making less money than I would if I was doing a feature film or a commercial—which are few and far between—I do have a steady income. Plus, I just love the work we are doing.  The roles are so satisfying. I also do other jobs on the side to make ends meet.

 

Laura Careless: I supplement my income from Company XIV by teaching dance.

 

Your most recent production for Company XIV is a retelling of Snow White. Why Snow White?

 

Austin McCormick: Apple themes seem to pop up a lot in my choices. I wanted our next production to be a fairy tale. Snow White had all the elements that I am attracted to: temptation, love quest, betrayal, etc. Also, in the original Grimm Brothers fairy tale, the evil queen tries to kill Snow White with a very tight bodice or corset, so of course that was an attraction. The skeleton of the story really intrigued me and I wanted a holiday fairy tale alternative to The Nutcracker.

 

You use hand puppets in Snow White. How did that come about?

 

Austin McCormick: I was looking a lot at shadow puppets as an element of design and as you will notice from the production, the puppets push the story forward from behind a scrim. So, it was either the puppets or the dancers conjuring up the seven dwarfs by putting shoes on their knees. [Lots of laughter] Also, our Snow White is more about the relationship between Snow White and the queen rather than the Disney version that is about Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

 

Brooke, could you talk about this new musical collaboration with Company XIV in Snow White?

 

Brooke Bryant: We did the usual ornamentation and flourishes that musicians implement when performing Baroque music and we tried to match those ornamentations to the dancer’s movements. When Austin brought us in we knew we would not have live music so we had to find recorded music that would work for this piece. We had to find music sources that were available to us at a reasonable cost. We had to figure out which text pieces we could add music to and how to make it interesting. One of things that we found fun was that we didn’t sing music from the same genre or style. We do Baroque, some jazz, also a Yiddish folk song. So we got to use a lot of different musical palettes in the same production.

 

How has Company XIV been received outside of New York?

 

Austin McCormick: Our reception outside of NYC is relative to the pieces we perform. In Edinburgh, Scotland we performed The Judgment of Paris and I felt audiences were more receptive there than in NYC because the work referenced a more European aesthetic. We toured a neo-baroque piece in Mexico, which was a risky venture; however, we received a good response. I think people are always surprised to see our combination of theatre and dance. American audiences and particularly critics want to pigeonhole the company. Is it Taylor?  Is it Graham?  They are never quite sure. Theatre critics tend to be more receptive to our work.

 

Yeva Glover: I think audiences response in the States and abroad has been pretty similar. Our work is something new for people to experience and the overall response has been good.

 

Gioia Marchese: The small differences I have found seem to be that audiences outside of NYC are quicker to embrace the work. New York audiences see so much theatre and dance that sometimes it is a challenge to win them over.  New York audiences are also slow to give their praise. It is almost as if you have to pay your dues first to get wide audience acceptance. It is surprising that Company XIV has received such positive reviews so quickly, which is a testament to Austin’s incredible work.

 

Davon Rainey: Sometimes New York audiences can be a little rigid and want to see the same type of performance pieces. On the road, audiences relate to the issues and situations expressed in our work, which is what everyone goes through in life, love, loss, pain, happiness, etc. It is just expressed in a different form.

 

What is next for Company XIV?

 

Austin McCormick: We are showcasing our Apple Trilogy through January. We are hoping to tour the trilogy and we will have a new production in the spring.

 

williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com

 

Company XIV performs through January 17 at 303 Bond Street, Brooklyn, NY. For more information, go to http://www.companyxiv.com

 

Read William Gooch's review of Le Serprent Rouge

 

Read Cindy Pierre's review of The Judgment of Paris

 

 

 
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