If you're familiar with Austin McCormick's work, you already know that it's best to leave your inhibitions at the door when you go see one of his productions. Since 2006, the Juilliard graduate has been at the helm of Company XIV, a group of scantily-clad performers that combines contemporary dance, lyrical singing, and burlesque to reimagine classic stories, such as Cinderella and The Nutcracker, and turn them into a sexy spectacle, as remote as possible from our childhood memories of the tale.
The company's latest production, Snow White, is arguably McCormick's darkest and most ambitious set to date. Performed at the Minetta Lane Theatre, in New York, this version bears hardly anything in common with the Disney story we're all familiar with. Here, our heroine Snow White (Hilly Bodin) frolicks around the stage in just a tutu, a Demi Moore buzz cut, and nipple pasties covering her dignity. She seems to be getting along just fine with the evil Queen (Laura Careless) until the latter realizes that Snow White is not one, not twice, but at least "10 times more fair" than her -- obviously a major upset for the vain monarch and her beloved talking mirror. The Queen (Laura Careless)
The self-obsession theme is smartly transposed into more contemporary realms. The dancers follow the Queen and Snow White in their downfall, tracking them up and close with a hand held digital camera, while the images they film are projected onto a string curtain, a metaphor for the mirror's reflection. The experience is both riveting and unsettling, too reminiscent of shaky celebrity sex tapes and revenge-porn selfies for comfort.
The show draws ideas left and right from what seems to be a bottomless well of influences, jumping from flamenco and castanet interludes, to dance numbers in full-on Dia de Los Muertos makeup, to covers of Top 40 pop hits meant to advance the plot (in this case: Britney's "Toxic", some Miguel and Troye Sivan, and Tove Lo's "Talking Body.") All these elements, juxtaposed with the company's signature baroque style, make the production overwhelming at first, and some stage gimmicks, like the use of a puppet theater or a voice-over narration in German, don't always hit home.
But it's precisely McCormick's excesses and imaginative bravura that slowly turn Snow White into pure visual bliss. When the oversized train on Snow White's gargantuan ball gown threatens to swallow the audience under black silk drapings, the moment feels truly magical. Later, dancers gather to build Snow White's coffin with a long sheet of Saran wrap, which creates a slightly hazy, see-through sanctuary that reflects the spotlights, and offers some respite from the show's frenzy to let the audience admire her beauty.
Snow White emerges from her sleep.
The most unexpected twist comes in the last part of the show: While we're still wondering why Snow White has cropped her famous ebony locks, it comes clear that her new-found butch dyke look serves a purpose. When her Prince Charming shows up, it turns out to be a girl! And what a girl: the Prince spends the better half of her stage time twirling over the stage in a giant hoop, in a dizzying number worthy of Cirque du Soleil.
Ultimately, the two lovers overthrow the Queen's masterplan to eliminate Snow White, who in the meantime has become at least "a thousand times more fair" than her. Yet, some doubt remains on our heroine's fate. In this crazy funhouse, where good looks and self-absorption reign, is she still the pure princess she once was? The story, like most of its enigmas, is left open to interpretation more than ever, and for ever after.
Snow White runs through March 12 at Minetta Lane Theater, New York. For tickets and information, go to CompanyXIV.com
Snow White (Hilly Bodin) and the Prince (Courtney Giannone)