Back to Baroque, but looking ahead


Chelsea-based artist’s Brooklyn show may interest Villagers


While New Yorkers have long recognized Chelsea as a haven for modern dance — by virtue of such important local institutions as Dance Theater Workshop and the Joyce Theater — it may surprise some readers to know that the area is also a major crucible of….Baroque movement.  

Chelsea resident Austin McCormick — choreographer and director of Company XIV — is a specialist of the European dance styles from around the 17th century, when it experienced its second major phase of development in France. He draws on this tradition to create new works for the contemporary stage that mix the older techniques with a more modern sensibility.

In describing his most recent work (“The Judgment of Paris”), an Edinburgh reviewer wrote “Moulin Rouge rubs shoulders with Aeschylus, Marilyn Monroe, Offenbach and a brothel run by Aphrodite.” McCormick’s new work, which opened May 9th at the company’s Carroll Gardens headquarters, is “Le Cirque Feerique.”

“I have a lot of fun with period references,” says McCormick, “There are other companies, like the New York Baroque Dance Company that do straight up re-creations — which is important. But what I do is a sort of re-imagining, a fusion of the contemporary with period dance. ‘The Judgment of Paris’ was a take-off on baroque opera, as well as Offenbach and comic opera. I have a lot of fun playing with the material, employing drag, gender bending, men in corsets. So I don’t take it super-seriously — but it’s important to know what you’re referencing.”  

And no one can argue that McCormick doesn’t know whereof he speaks. He’s been studying this stuff since he was a small child.  

“I attended the Conservatory of Baroque Dance Theater in Santa Barbara, which is where I grew up. Régine Astier, a historic dance writer, began this small school out of her house — where she trained 20 kids at a time at the most. I began studying it while very young with a group of other kids, then did a private course until I was 18. Régine is still a mentor to me. It’s obviously very specialized. I learned about art history and dance history and to read dance notation to I could reconstruct historical dances. When I was a kid, the main thing that attracted me was the costumes. I was amazed by the over-the-top grandeur of the whole thing.” 

Needless to say, it’s difficult if not impossible to find people who already qualified to dance in this arcane style. Of his core company, two of the members are from Julliard, one from Santa Barbara, and one came from an audition. He’s had to teach them all the Baroque style — but, adds McCormick, “In general, if you’ve studied ballet, Baroque comes naturally as frame of reference. Still, it takes a couple if years to get the style.”  

McCormick moved to the Chelsea area shortly before forming his company in 2006.  

“Before this I was living on the Upper West Side, in the Lincoln Center area, because I was attending Julliard,” he recalls. “But I was dying to get downtown, just for the change of energy. Everything down here is vibrant, alive and artistic. So I felt I had to move. I looked around at different neighborhoods and fell in love with Chelsea because of the galleries and restaurants…and the revamping of 10th Avenue made it seem like a good time to make the move.”

As a proponent of Baroque dance, it should come as no surprise that there is a Francophile theme in the local businesses McCormick patronizes.  

“I live across from [the clothing boutique] Comme des Garcon, which is a problem, because I can’t resist going in there. I also love Madeleine Patisserie at the corner of Sixth and 23rd; they have the best baked goods in town.” 

But the resources of the neighborhood directly feed his work as well.  

“I love going over to the water by the West Side Highway, or the High Line, when I’m thinking about a show. When the weather’s nice, I can sit and draw my storyboards and plan my productions. My favorite thing is to go to the flea market at The Garage, and buy stuff for my shows. I would say that over half of the stuff my dancers wear is from that flea market.” 

While McCormick makes his home in Chelsea, Theatre XIV is headquartered at 303 Bond Street in Brooklyn. Asked why his workplace is not in the same neighborhood as his home, McCormick explains: “I found the space that I needed for a creative headquarters in Brooklyn. I have the best of both worlds, because I live in ultra hip and artsy Chelsea and make work in Carroll Gardens — which has more of a community of young up and coming artists.”

“Le Cirque Feerique” (The Fairy Circus), by Company XIV is described as “a Baroque confection for all ages, a magical menagerie of opera, dance, theatre and opulent design…[featuring] a myriad of dance styles, fusing baroque, classical ballet, flamenco, ballroom, Indian dance and contemporary movement.” Says McCormick, “it mixes eight different fairy tales, some you know some you don’t, and it’s aimed at adults as well as kids.”

It takes place through June 6th at the 303 Bond Street Theatre (303 Bond St. in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn). Performances are Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 5p.m.; tickets are $30 ($25 for those under 16, students and seniors). The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Trains: F or G to Carroll Street. For more information, visit www.CompanyXIV.com.