Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Theater review: A hot little 'Nutcracker' from Company XIV

By Meredith Deliso

’Tis the season for “Nutcrackers” of all stripes, be them faithful or irreverent. For a sexed-up retelling that’s full of eye candy, Company XIV’s reimagining, “Nutcracker Rouge,” doesn’t disappoint.

The Carroll Gardens-based dance-theater troupe has made a name for itself thanks to its sensual, over-the-top productions that are as much a celebration of the human body as the dance that it performs. And “Nutcracker Rouge,” the company’s vamped-up contribution to the holiday tradition, now through Jan. 9, turns the classic tale into a sumptuous treat that’s certainly not for kids.

At the helm of Company XIV’s version is Drosselmeyer, a dramatic narrator who demands as much attention as the characters he introduces — including his goddaughter, the virginal Marie Claire, upon whom he bestows one fateful Christmas a nutcracker who is actually the prince of the Kingdom of the Sweets whose past deeds includes fending off an army of mice but who is now miserably awaiting his queen.

The kingdom itself is the real sweet here, ripe as it is with half-naked dancers who represent chocolates, cherry truffles, licorice and macaroons. Oh, the macaroons.

The dances — set to a jazzy score based off the original Tchaikovsky music — feature a harem of “Turkish delights,” perfectly synchronized lap dances, and even a rousing can can number. The climax comes, of course, during the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, at which point Marie Claire sheds her girlish, stifling dress for a tiny burlesque number, complete with pasties, for the big reunion.

Choreographer Austin McCormick’s sensuous production is playful and cheeky at heart — bubbles descend like snow at the opening dance, sex acts are pantomimed to much laughs, and, in case you missed the cues, there’s even a laugh track and drum roll, however tacky.

As our Sugar Plum Fairy, Laura Careless is mesmerizing, her face appropriately angelic or cloying, and she deservedly owns the stage during her anticipated solo. The production also truly leans on our narrator, Jeff Takacs (who wrote the script, and clearly loves every word). He gamely dresses in S&M dungeon-esque duds, operatic drag and traditional Baroque fair, as is the company’s aesthetic. His theatricality lends itself well to the company’s over-the-top flair, but we were too distracted by the beautiful dancers.

Despite its charms, this “Nutcracker” is not without some sour moments. A big reveal of the Kingdom of the Sweets is underwhelming. Some of the otherwise engaging dancing falls flat; in particular, a Spanish flamenco number. Those eye-popping floor-dropping dances and stripper poles come at a price, and thanks to all that bared flesh, the evident bruises on our poor Careless are a tad distracting.

Still, this “Nutcracker” is a tasty holiday escape, favoring style over substance. And it’s nothing without style.

“Nutcracker Rouge” at Company XIV [303 Bond St. between Union and Sackett streets in Carroll Gardens, no phone), now through Jan. 9, with performances Friday through Sunday at 8 pm. No shows Dec. 24-26. Tickets $30, $25 for students and seniors. For info, visit 


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