In The Studio

In The Studio: Company XIV Isn't Your Typical Burlesque Troupe

Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

Unbeknownst to pedestrians on the street, inside a warehouse at 383 Troutman is one of the most eccentric dance companies in Brooklyn. Company XIV is known for their ostentatious costumes, raunchy choreography and taboo twists on old classics like Snow White and The Nutcracker. From former Limon dancers on trapeze swings to opera-singing pole dancers, this company has talents that, woven together through a familiar storyline, make for an exciting show.

Between rehearsing for the company's upcoming holiday season run of Nutcracker Rouge in their newly-renovated theater and his choreography work for the Metropolitan Opera, we caught up with artistic director Austin McCormick for our latest rendition of In The Studio.


Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

In the past, your company has performed in rented theaters. How does it feel to be performing for the first time in your own space?

It definitely feels more at home for us. When we started renovating this warehouse space I wanted to make sure we kept the aesthetic of the theater very similar to what we've done in the past. So we obviously have a designated stage and performance space, but the dressing room is still exposed so when patrons come in there's a fringed off space where they can peek in and see the dancers doing makeup and getting ready.

This seems like a particularly athletic cast. Was that intentional in casting this show?

This is for sure the most athletic group of dancers we've had. I'm casting a little bit differently now because we're having shows six days a week with double shows, so I'm more aware of the fact that dancers have to really be up to the challenge. And I'm also casting dancers who can do more specialty performance, like aerialists for example, so I think that plays into the dancers' physical ability.

Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

Speaking of the dancers' physical ability, is there anything the twins [Ross and Nick Katen] can't do? In the show we see them doing extremely intricate tap, high performance contemporary dancing and aerial partner work on a trapeze.

I don't think so. I'm trying to figure it out. Maybe sing?

Most of the songs in the show are sung live by the performers and I have to admit, it's hard to listen to the original version of a song after hearing it during one of your shows. They are changed in such unique ways. Is that something you collaborate on with the performers?

I tend to pick most of the music but I think now that I have a relationship with a lot of the singers in the company we start to brainstorm together. I'm really interested in their creative take on the cover. Like Marci, for example, will flip languages and sing the song in an operatic way. (Not to mention she's usually upside down and hanging from a hoop while doing it.)

Photo by Mark Shelby Perry

You incorporate a lot of gender-bending within the costumes and the relationships between characters on stage. Is that something you think the dance world needs more of?

Certainly costume-wise it's very exciting to me to see different genders in different silhouettes, but I think it's not as calculated as making a giant statement. It's more just how I see the world or maybe want to see the world. I feel like so much of the shows are in this dream-like environment. So I don't think that much about gender in terms of making a bold and clear statement, but for me things are more fluid artistically.

Company XIV's 2017 season opens November 9th with their holiday hit Nutcracker Rouge at Theatre XIV.

Matthew Neenan used images of silencing and control in let mortal tongues awake. Photo by Bill Herbert.

From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

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