Mark Shelby Perry

Nutcracker Rouge

Reviewer's Rating

The Nutcracker: an innocuous, family-friendly ballet that has become a Christmas tradition. Nutcracker Rouge: the part-burlesque, part-circus, part-cabaret, all-around celebration that should become your new Christmas tradition. Nestled in Bushwick is Théâtre XIV, the home of Company XIV and their artistic director and founder, Austin McCormick. And whatever you might think you’re expecting from their production of Nutcracker Rouge, Company XIV is ready to dazzle you beyond your wildest dreams.

Taking inspiration from Paris’s legendary Moulin Rouge and the opulence of the era of the Sun King Louis XIV, Nutcracker Rouge is loosely based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet. We follow a girl, Marie-Claire (parce que nous sommes en France maintenant), through an imagined land ostensibly influenced by her favorite toy, a nutcracker. Her journey is emcee’d by Monsieur and Madame Drosselmeyer (Albert Cadabra and Marcy Richardson), gracious hosts and fiercely talented performers who usher in wonder after wonder.

Marie-Claire explores the Kingdom of the Sweets by way of musical numbers, acrobatic acts, magic tricks, ballet , all fabulously extravagant and scantily clad. The Kingdom of Sweets is, in fact, a kingdom of no inhibitions. Sexuality in all its forms is celebrated, as is the human form. Corsets, codpieces, thongs, and glittery pasties abound. We meet characters like Chocolate, Cherry, Lady Licorice, and Banana Split – a brilliant homage to Josephine Baker, complete with the infamous banana skirt. It’s a marvelous mix of Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker score and a carefully curated selection of more contemporary tracks. Ballet and burlesque blend beautifully as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy meets Nick Jonas and Christina Aguilera, enhancing the enchanting with the lasciviously irresistible. Each act is so outrageously stunning that you keep wondering how they could possibly top it. And yet they always do.

Marie-Claire (Christine Flores) tiptoes around the action, the perfect picture of an ingenue: perpetually wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked, her mouth often agape with wonder or modest shock. (Is it notable that she is the only character whose costume always covers her entire derriere?) At first she joins the dancing tentatively, jumping in with a line of ballerinas for a few seconds of synchronized moves before jumping out to let the dancers do their own thing. But as the night goes on, Marie-Claire’s comfort in this strange and wonderful world grows. By Act II, she has stripped from her relatively modest Versailles-inspired dress to a skimpy corset. She is pulled up into the air to join in a few minutes of a mesmerizing acrobatic act, and she even performs a pas de deux with Banana Split (Jacoby Pruitt) – the first time we are clued in to exactly how talented a dancer Flores really is.

Towards the end of this fantastical fantasia, just as you begin to wonder what the logical conclusion of this show could be, Marie-Claire emerges as the Sugar Plum Fairy. In a glittery bra and tutu, she is finally dressed the part (sans bare buttcheeks, alas). And we see just how evolved in her new role she has become when, shortly into the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, she tears off the cups of her bra to reveal glittery purple pasties. She truly has become a part of this world, and, in the final scene, is finally greeted by her Prince (Nicholas Katen). For all the impossible sexiness and ribaldry of the show, this happy ending isn’t exactly a sexual awakening, and it is certainly not a loss of innocence. She has come into her own, fully realized in this strange, sweet world. The elegantly choreographed pas de deux she performs with the Nutcracker Prince is not quite as racy as the rest of the show (despite the few stitches of fabric that comprise the costumes) – it is incredibly sweet and even sad. And yes, also sensual.

To fret too much over the story or the message is a fool’s errand, though, because in the end Nutcracker Rouge is not here to teach you anything. It is for you to revel in, to gasp in amazement and let your jaw drop to the floor. This Nutcracker you never knew you always wanted is here to delight you, to titillate you, and help you abandon the constraints of societal norms and live, for a few hours, in this world in which the celebration of freedom, beauty, truth, and love never stops.