Broadway may have name recognition and notoriety, but Brooklyn rivals its neighboring borough of Manhattan for live entertainment. Company XIV and Cocktail Magique, both founded by Austin McCormick, are just two of the unique performance spaces located in the bohemian chic enclave of Bushwick.
Since 2006, McCormick has been blending the pageantry of the 17th-century French royal court with the scintillating art of burlesque. Company XIV shows — including Snow White, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland — are reimagined through seductive dances, eclectic music, gender bends, and astounding circus acts. Audience members sip champagne or craft cocktails and immerse themselves in teasing yet tasteful decadence.
For the holiday season, the troupe has revived its yearly favorite: Nutcracker Rouge, a cheeky, adults-only take on the classical ballet.
Just over a year ago, McCormick launched an intimate, 62-seat theater around the corner from XIV called Cocktail Magique. It offers similar elements to XIV, but emphasizes magic, audience interaction, and slightly more intoxication. (For both shows, non-alcoholic beverages are available.)
A California native, McCormick started XIV after graduating from Juilliard. Originally it was a Brooklyn-based standard dance theater with not much burlesque or circus influence. His first Manhattan venue was at The Slipper Room, a Burlesque theater on the Lower East Side.
It pushed his troupe into doing more acts to fit the programming of the space. They continued to perform on various stages in Manhattan, but ultimately, he wanted a permanent home for the troupe. In 2016, he put down stakes in Bushwick.
“I’m excited by the diverse and eclectic crowds in Brooklyn,” he says. “When you come to our shows, you’ll see every age, race, and sexual orientation. It’s a mixed bag and a melting pot designed to be a party-like, communal experience.”
McCormick started studying classical ballet in his native Santa Barbara home when he was just five and advanced to baroque dance when he turned eight. “There was a lady there who was a French dance historian and I started working with her,” he says. “I learned how to read notation and reconstruct the dances. I fell in love with the over-the-top aesthetic of that.
“That particular period in art history was all about delighting the court. It’s something that really affects my point of view in a present-day context.”
During college, McCormick went to burlesque shows around New York. “I always liked how audiences leaned into the work, which was different from concert dance,” he says.
“There, the audience leaned out more. Our shows are a celebration of everyone being in the room instead of having an austere experience. With Baroque dance, there were so many rules in terms of the period and the etiquette of what you could and could not do particularly with the costumes. The French style has its own set of rules but there is also a sensuality about it that is at odds with the outward appearance. There is an inherent tension there.”
McCormick isn’t afraid to break conventional heteronormative rules and incorporate queer elements into his work. “I’m curious about my own sexuality and place in the world,” he says. “Collaborating with different performers from all backgrounds and orientations has brought new energy and ideas into the space.”
Producing live entertainment is rarely simple and McCormick is tasked with nimbly juggling the administrative with the artistic. “On the business side, it’s been a real challenge to keep the train on track,” he notes.
Artistic issues are less taxing. “There are a lot of obstacles that must be crossed with costumes like wearing heeled shoes in a tight corset with a powdered wig. But these problems bring more creativity,” he says. “I work with costume designer Zane Pihlström. We’ve worked together for years and we’re still surprising each other. We both agree that if it doesn’t work the first time, let’s keep trying it. Usually, something more fabulous emerges. Of course, we always put the safety of the performer first.”
Company XIV has won acclaim from major news outlets and visitors from around the world have travelled exclusively to attend. Given the adult nature, it’s fair to wonder if anyone has been shocked or upset by the content.
“Not really,” says McCormick, noting that audiences tend to know what they are getting into when they buy tickets. The only weird thing that has happened a handful of times is that people have shown up to Nutcracker Rouge thinking they were going to the traditional New York City Ballet production in Manhattan.
“Somehow, they ended up in Bushwick!” he laughs.
Company XIV is located at Theatre XIV 383 Troutman Street and Cocktail Magique is located at 17 Wyckoff Avenue in Brooklyn. For tickets and information, visit www.companyxiv.com.
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