Maya Lekach

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Sure, there is a saying “If it ain’t baroque don’t fix it.” Company XIV’s artistic director and choreographer Austin McCormick, expert in all things baroque, opulent, and performative, isn’t fixing anything — he’s just changing it a little.

Bringing new life to classic and familiar stories with his immersive retellings, McCormick’s most recent show, Queen of Hearts, is now onstage at the company’s permanent location on Troutman Street in the informal nightlife center of Bushwick, showing a new side to “Alice in Wonderland.”

LEXXE as Alice in Queen of Hearts. Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry.

The show itself — at its best when it is most irreverent and also most referential — takes place just off the Jefferson L, in a former warehouse and current land of dreams (or perhaps pre-adolescent nightmares for the easily scared, yet imaginative). The surroundings themselves are lush, with hyper-designed surroundings, including an indoor faux-tree, carousel ponies on the bar, and a martini glass that is sized to fit a human in the place of an olive.

It was a long road to be able to settle into this Bushwick space and create these worlds so vividly for audiences. Company XIV began its journey in 2006 and has finally moved to Bushwick to stay, after beginning in a warehouse on the Gowanus Canal. After roving the city, performing in more classic proscenium spaces, including The Slipper Room and the Minetta Lane Theater (both in Manhattan), McCormick and Company XIV finally found this space in Bushwick — almost by chance — and settled in for the long haul.

“We’re so thrilled and thankful to finally have a home base,” McCormick said over the phone in-between auditions. “It really allows us to work on the creative side of things and be more risky.”

Those risks may seem to be simply showcasing this new style of work, which Sun King’s (aka King Louis XIV of France, after whom the company is named) sensibilities are authentic and not just an affectation or rote stylization. For McCormick, making those baroque choices are not a risk, but a baseline for the work he has been participating in and creating since he was a kid in Santa Barbara, CA.

Austin McCormick in the studio. Image Courtesy of DKC/O&M

McCormick grew up establishing a strong background in a variety of dance forms. It wasn’t long before a French baroque dance historian took him under her wing and taught him the classic dance style, as well as the Feuillet notation, the traditional method of writing the baroque style dance to the music in which small diagrams indicate the position of the feet and the basic dance movements of the dance style so popular in the 17th century French court.

“[My teacher and I] would reconstruct these antique dances and she would make the corresponding costume,” McCormick said. “Everything was as closely replicated as possible.”

After a stint at Julliard, McCormick knew that he wanted to choreograph rather than continue as a dance performer. Considering his unusual background, McCornick knew he was specifically primed to create something new.

“That is my aesthetic and background,” McCormick said. “I just have a love for everything baroque, and ornate, and over the top.”

Storm Marrero as the Queen of Hearts. Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry.

For McCormick, over the top has translated into some wild acts, like ice skating onstage on synthetic ice for his yearly Nutcracker redux, Nutcracker Rouge, as well as showcasing an opera singing aerialist, to name a few of the surprising elements that have come to be his signature. “There is no special skill that is off-limits,” McCormick said.

The new location in Bushwick, just off Wycoff, is steps away from other opulent nightlife endeavors like House of Yes, Lot 45, and allows for the exploration of all of these various specialties that go beyond shock value.

“This corner of Bushwick, much like Company XIV, is at the crossroads of nightlife and theater,” McCormick said. “It contributes to every space being known and being different and yet inspired by one another.”

An important avenue in the work is showcasing gender fluidity. It is a common denominator in the local nightlife and theater scene.

“I grew up wearing a dress over my ‘boy clothes,’ so this is something that has been a part of myself and my work for as long as my interest in the baroque,” McCormick said. “It’s never a gimmick for me, it’s just how I see the world.”

What emerges is something with less of a narrative and more of a collection of connected vignettes dedicated to our favorite memories  of Alice — even if those memories are mere psychedelic whiffs and fantastical remembrances.

Nicholas and Ross Katen as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry.

As artists and patrons in the neighborhood embrace this style and Company XIV settles into the area, McCormick and Company won’t be stopping their continued new productions.

Queen of Hearts will be running through the end of August after an extension followed by another round of Nutcracker Rouge, set to open in November. After that, another new retelling of a classic story is already in the works.

“I have a few ideas,” McCormick said with a distinct hint of knowing slyness in his voice. “I can’t tell yet though,” he said. “I’m sworn to secrecy”.

Catch Queen of Hearts at Company XIV Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 10 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. through August. Grab tickets here.

Cover photo courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry.

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