In The Studio: Company XIV Isn't Your Typical Burlesque Troupe
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.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.