Of the many types of candies that dance in The Nutcracker and, consequently, in Austin McCormick's "Baroque Burlesque confection" Nutcracker Rouge, cotton candy isn't represented. Well, not in person, at least. The show itself resembles that treat: lighter than air, sweetly spun, and sticky when wet. Though Company XIV is once again adapting what is mainly treated as a children's fairy tale (as they did with Snow White and Le Cirque Feerique), the production is their most risque yet, a bold return to the format they did so well with Le Serpent Rouge and The Judgment of Paris. And when Drosselmeyer (Jeff Takacs), our doll-making host, announces that he's got "some kinks to work out," I can assure you -- if the opening "horizontal polka" doesn't convince you -- that he's not referring to any definition with "mistake" in it.
After a prelude in which Drosselmeyer's god-daughter Marie-Claire (Laura Careless) ventures through a forest filled with dancing snowflakes and regal wolves, the audience is seated in the Kingdom of the Sweets, and the next seventy minutes are filled with such eye-candy that you might want to save the complementary chocolate under your seat for later (lest you get an instant cavity). As sultry remixes of Tchaikovsky classics waft through the air, a trio of sexy maraschino cherries dance on stage (Marla Phelan, Mina Lawton, and Delphina Parenti); they are followed by dancers (in fewer and fewer clothes) who represent desirable Turkish Delights (Yeva Glover, Marisol Cabrera, and Parenti) or leashed and latexed bits of Licorice (Sean Gannon and Michael Hodge).
There's a peppery sort of Chocolate (Cabrera), doing what feels like a Flamenco, and then a positively comical flood of macaroons, who tumble to and fro on their swings (or atop one another) as Takacs, dressed as a grotesque Marie Antoinette, regales us with their bloody origin. Through it all, Careless is far from careless, as she manages to transform from a prude young girl to a tempted child, to a sexually confident lady and then to a terrified woman -- for too much of any good thing can be a bad thing -- until, after a good old can-can, reclaiming the stage for herself, a Sugar Plum who isn't afraid to pole dance as she waits for her Nutcracker Prince (David Martinez).
Food metaphors aside, it's hard to imagine anyone not eating this up: from the slow and sensuous to the speedy and silliest, from the technique of the ballet to the performance of the burlesque, from the shyness of the actor to the confidence of the dancer, Nutcracker Rouge isn't just a crackling success, it's the best show Company XIV's done yet.
[Bonus: You can get an even clearer sense of the show's vibe with this extended teaser, here.]