Off-Broadway Theater Review: ROCOCO ROUGE (Company XIV)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov & LindaAnn Loschiavo on September 21, 2014

in Theater-New York

A CABARET SHOW THAT GOES FOR BAROQUE

Mae West, the sage and sybarite from Brooklyn, used to say, “Let joy be unrefined,” a point of view that also suits Austin McCormick, artistic director and choreographer of Company XIV.  His latest extravaganza Rococo Rouge retools the roisterous risk-taking revelry he’s known for: bare skin, sultry ballet, baroque flourishes, burlesque, and gender-bending.

The ensemble of Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

Our first experience with Company XIV was last year’s Nutcracker Rouge, a bawdy reimagining of the Nutcracker ballet, many elements of which we found to be problematic. It’s happy reporting that the same isn’t true for their new spectacle; unburdened by things like story and dramatic arcs, the current production dazzles as modern burlesque, straightforward in its structure—one number follows another—and splendid in its execution.

The cast of Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

Creating a steamy vibe right from the start, Rococo Rouge conjures the aspects of human sensuality, from traditionally romantic to aggressively transgressive, with stops in between for addictive, playful, or regretful. Taking a cue from the disparate acts of vaudeville, McCormick includes grand opera, Beyonce’s disco pop, a tarantella, Edith Piaf classics, aerial acts, choreographed routines, and suggestive sex.

The cast in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

Scantily dressed in Zane Pihlstrom’s fantastic glittering outfits, and moving between Jeanette Yew’s sensuous lights and sultry shadows, the beautiful faces and svelte bodies grace the intimate stage. The individual acts are tied together by a sexy running commentary by soprano Shelly Watson, a Rubenesque mistress of ceremony extravagantly attired and bewigged, occasionally balancing a huge hat once made famous by the vaudeville queen Nora Bayes. Campy and charismatic, the delightful Watson is well-suited for her role, singing and flirting with the audience. All the vocalists are first rate, and Rob Mastrianni on guitar is phenomenal.

Steven Trumon Gray & Cailan Orn in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

The theme is anchored by a lavish opening number, Johann Adolf Hasse’s “Non verranno a turbarti i riposi” (from his rarely heard 1760 opera Alcide al Bivio), an aesthetic battle between Virtue and Pleasure. As the full company dances, soprano Brett Umlauf sings. Happily, in McCormick’s hands, the stiff ceremony that has attached itself to classical music soon recedes.

Laura Careless in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

The acrobatic turns by Cyr Wheel artist Courtney Giannone and Lyra artists Allison Ulrich and Steven Trumon Gray are entrancing and occasionally breath-taking. Allison Ulrich’s “dance” on a stripper’s pole was elegant and graceful. One of the more successful dance pieces is “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen, sung by Shelly Watson while Davon Rainey portrays the seductive gypsy girl. While one of us feels that some of McCormick’s choreographed routines are uninspired—and that the can-can finale is so nontraditional, rag-tag, and comical that it seems under-rehearsed—the other believes that the haphazard feel is intentional and succeeds on that level.

Katrina Cunningham in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

Rococo Rouge is this company’s first show at their new Manhattan home, an intimate supper club and bar located at 428 Lafayette Street. The subterranean, 100-seat space, decorated with ornate, iron-backed padded Porter’s armchairs, upholstered settees, and matching round tables with candles, has a velvet quality, and feels both intimate and luxurious as it throbs with the seductive, titillating fantasy that McCormick and his performers create. This luxury isn’t cheap. Tickets range from $55 to $125 and the median drink price is about 14 bucks. But if this suits your budget and if burlesque is your thing, then Rococo Rouge, is a most worthwhile outing.

Acrobats in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

photos by Phillip Van Nostrand

Davon Rainey & Shelly Watson in Austin McCormick’s ROCOCO ROUGE. Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand.

Rococo Rouge
Company XIV
XIV Theater, 428 Lafayette Street (between Astor Pl and E 4th St)
21 & over
scheduled to end on November 2, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 677-1444 or visit www.companyxiv.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phillip Scott Van Nostrand September 23, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Great article! Photos by ME, Phillip Van Nostrand 😉

Such a fun show, everyone should see it!

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