Though Company XIV is too pure to stoop to such a base pun, their aesthetic choices can be summed up neatly as: "If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it." Following that unspoken credo has helped their latest work, Le Cirque Ferrique (The Fairy Circus) to be every bit as enchanting as their last, Snow White--but it has also kept them from the heights they once captured in their more sultry shows (like Le Serpent Rouge!). Their old adult works were taut--nay, supple--and their newer stuff, which skews toward kids, tends to be looser and more labored. Company XIV was built around Austin McCormick's choreographic delights, and while his strong ensemble is filled with familiar faces, the focus shifts too often to the text (never the strong point of their shows) and its clownish narrator (Jeff Takacs).
And yet, these are small disappointments that more often than not get lost in the sweeping spectacles of Company XIV's gilded fantasy world. And there are plenty of things that work better in Le Cirque Ferrique, like McCormick's use of the Baroque Opera Trio Charities (Brooke Bryant, Amber Youell, and Brett Umlauf): this time, instead of an awkwardly interjecting chorus, they're now properly mashed-up into the proceedings, delivering haunting riffs on Lady Gaga and Madonna. The shift from a single fairy tale to a series of seven short riffs also provides McCormick a wider canvas of dance styles to pull from: "The Princess and the Pea" is told with Arabian flair, all silk swoops and finger-bells; "Ferdinand the Bull" shows its Spanish roots in its leggy stomps; and both "The Frog Prince" and "The Ugly Duckling" create new styles of dance to show its two-man frog, or blind-legs duck. There are plenty of highlights in these eighty-five minutes, particularly the wolf's lascivious duet during "Little Red Riding Hood." The only piece that strains to do something unique is "The King's New Clothes," but then again--that's no surprise: Baroque is far from Burlesque.
McCormick knows how to mix-and-match looks, dances, and music, and seeing just how they'll all fit together is part of the fun of any Company XIV show. For instance, "Cinderella" mixes the text of Roald Dahl's clever, rhyming adaptation with step-sisters in pig- and cow-faced masks; Charities sings "Like a Prayer" as the Fairy Godmother's balloon-brimmed dress descends from the sky. Zane Pihlstrom's frilly costumes--especially the more abstract string-pipe bull mask, or the bedazzled wolf--are otherworldly delights that accent the technical dance moves on display. And of course, the ensemble is a game bunch, from McCormick's tongue-wagging frog to Davon Rainey's powerful yet playful bull, to the gamut of princesses (Laura Careless, Yeva Glover, Marisol Cabrera), not to mention Gioia Marcheses, who for once doesn't only play the villain.
The best storytellers--Dahl, Seuss, Grimm--invent their own stylized worlds and invite others in to take a peek. McCormick may choose to write in corsets, lace, and ballet, but he's every bit as captivating at spinning a tale--or simply at spinning, and spinning, and spinning.