In a smoky room, as low music plays, audience members sip champagne and lithe dancers strut across the stage in fishnets and little else. There's no curtain to raise at Minetta Lane Theatre, and no hidden wings. Performers transform openly for "Snow White," pinning on their wigs and whispering privately together, blurring reality and fantasy.
"Our shows are an outlet for drama and emotional abandon," says Austin McCormick, artistic director of Company XIV, which has been retelling myths, folklore and fairy tales with a provocative edge for 10 years. The company debuted in Gowanus in 2006, but moved to the West Village in 2013 after its first home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
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"This production was largely inspired by German cabaret, weaving in our signature 'Baroque burlesque' style," he adds, comparing "Snow White" to another Brothers Grimm tale that kicked off the season, a much lighter "Cinderella."
"It's a classic winter show, so I wanted to go darker with it," explains McCormick of the adult only production. "The choreography is more earthy and animalistic. I was very interested in the character of the evil queen, I wanted her to drop down physically and become primal."
Handheld digital cameras are also used to follow the evil queen (founding member Laura Careless) in her quest for perfect beauty. "It's reminiscent of live feeds, of paparazzi, or webcams," McCormick says. "It contrasts our more antique influences onstage and creates a voyeuristic experience."
With all Company XIV shows, the sets are minimal save for evocative pieces like a carousel horse and spiral staircase. The costumes are all gothic romance: corsets and garters, glittering pasties and leather gags. Building on the company's well-established aesthetic, the opulence is amplified by aerial stunts, live opera, ballet and even puppetry.
Off-Broadway or not, this is one of the most unique theatrical experiences available to New Yorkers — especially with tickets starting at just $30. Like "Sleep No More" on a single ingenuous stage, it's a bold statement on what theater arts can be in 2016.