For the month of DECEMBER

Company XIV

Interview with Austin McCormick
Artistic Director of Company XIV, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


K: The use of Baroque dance and style has become Company XIV's signature trademark. I read in your online bio that you began studying this period in history at the age of eight and it struck me as an unusual discipline for a child so young. What was it that sparked your interest as a child?

A: There's a woman in my town - in Santa Barbara - that is a dance historian. I was doing ballet at the time and she was offering a workshop so I signed up for it and we started doing private study. I fell in love with Baroque dance mainly because of the costumes, at first, but because it is the beginnings of ballet, it was sort of along the lines of what I was starting to study so, it made sense for me. She had a big impact on my life creatively, for sure.

K: How would you describe Baroque dance?

A: Well, a lot of the ballet vocabulary is there, but the Baroque dance that I studied is more the French style - it was codified in technique under the reign of Louis the XIV - so, it was performed mainly in the court and then at the Paris Opera Ballet. I guess if you look at classical ballet now, a lot of the vocabulary is there in Baroque dance - very ornate costumes and dramatic music, heeled shoes and wigs and corsets. (laughs)

K: So, how did the idea to meld Baroque and contemporary influences come about?

A. Well, at Juilliard, we had a composition class for choreography and because I had done so much Baroque from the age of eight, it was really in my body so, I started experimenting with how that works in terms of fusing the period with the contemporary movement. Because you study Graham and Limon and the major modern dance techniques at Juilliard as well as ballet so, it came about because it was in my body, I would say. Then I realized that it was sort of interesting too, from a dramatic point of view, to contrast the formality of the Baroque with the more lush movement that is, I guess you'd call it, more contemporary, so in some way, it juxtaposes in an interesting way, especially if you're telling a period story. It's interesting to layer the movement that way.

K: For Le Serpent Rouge! you directed, choreographed and even adapted the text. How do you balance all these different responsibilities? How how much support and collaboration do you receive from Company XIV's core members during the creative process?

A: Definitely, there is a lot of collaboration. Especially at this point because we've been together for three years now so, we've done a few shows together and really have become more collaborative, for sure, in terms of the dancers giving input and they understand more now what I'm after so it feels like it really is a team effort. But in terms of all of the (laughs) everything that goes into the show, that's sort of also the whole baroque thing that I love. In the Baroque period, it was really about the combination of music and choreography and it was all about this theatrical experience and less about isolating the art form. I love that sensibility. I call all the work "Neo-Baroque." I mean, Le Serpent Rouge! isn't super Baroque-influenced, but it is in the sense of that it really does combine all of those things - the choreography, the design, the music - so, I really have a good time in researching. I really take my time, I read a lot of sources, and I really look at a lot. It's my favorite thing, before we get into rehearsals, to really look through my entire library and pull everything together and it's really interesting to see how it kind of unites. I'll have things I think are disparate and not linked at all, but I'm attracted to them and then somehow, it sort of weaves together into the final product. I love seeing how it's going come out the other side.

K: For better or for worse, has a final product ever drastically deviated from the original idea?

A: I think all of these shows come out differently than I originally think they're going to, which is scary, but also what I love about doing it. Nothing has been a complete total disaster in terms of being totally opposite - there's always that chance. Usually, you pick the theme and then it tends to all kind of come together. So far, so good! (laughs)

K: Everyone in Company XIV is so strong and dynamic. When you talk about collaboration, having so many strong characters in one room, I would imagine, might prove to be a bit overwhelming.

A: It can. We're a pretty small group so it's not too crazy in rehearsal. I mean, in terms of collaborating, I get very inspired by the dancers that are in the core group so I tend to really kind of customize and make things that I feel are appropriate for them. I'm inspired by them. Hopefully, they're inspired by me. That's kind of how it works. You know, I feel like even though we're remounting these two shows [Le Serpent Rouge! and The Judgment of Paris], they're still always living and they're always changing. I think its important to always kind of let the shows evolve. I'm always making changes and I'm always kind of looking at it and re-examining.

K: How did you find the core members of Company XIV? Had you worked with them previously?

Two of the members, Davon [Rainey] and Laura [Carless] were at Juilliard with me. Davon was in my class and Laura was the year below me, but I knew them and I had done some projects with them at school. Yeva [Glover], I found in Canada at an audition so she moved to New York to join and Gioia [Marchese], I knew growing up in Santa Barbara. She had moved to New York and then moved back to California, but I convinced her to move back out here (laughs) and join the company. Then we started having rotating guest artist roles in terms of "the man" in the company so, that's an actor that comes on for different projects that I'm looking for.

K: Company XIV's upcoming Apple Trilogy is quite an ambitious project as the trilogy consists of two previously mounted productions, Le Serpent Rouge! and The Judgment of Paris, as well as a new production of Snow White -Company's XIV's first family show. How has the process been?

A: Gosh. (laughs) It's not over. You know, it's been really a treat to revisit the shows in terms of... You're never really satisfied, I think, as an artist so, I was really happy with the shows in their first incarnation, but its always, I think, a treat to go back and make changes and adapt and let the shows evolve so, its been really great to go back to those shows. Also, I think you learn. Having done Le Serpent Rouge! and now going back to The Judgment of Paris - which was the first apple show we did - I think, you just have more experience and so, it's nice to go back, but doing the three shows is crazy! (laughs) And this is our first kid's show [Snow White] so, that's an experiment, but I've actually had a really good time making that show with the company. I never thought I would do a show for families and I'm sure after you saw Le Serpent Rouge! (laughs), you probably...(laughs)

K: Have you found a common thread running the themes to which you are attracted? Which ideas or themes do you most enjoy exploring through your work?

A: Well, I think something that is present in, definitely, the shows for adults is sort of this explanation of gender and more generally, relationships - exploring relationships, what it means to be human - just very basic things that all classical stories have in common. Especially with the Adam and Eve story, I was fascinated by when you start pulling the thread, how many things are related to The Creation Story, obviously. Even in pop songs and themes, all kinds of stuff so again, in researching, that's kind of what I find fascinating and then all these other influences can be really inspiring. But, I think mainly I'm interested in with the Baroque stuff, definitely, the emotional underbelly of the period and I would say for Le Serpent Rouge! and The Judgement of Paris, there's definitely something in there about gender, men and women. I guess I'm pretty fascinated with women. (laughs) I guess that's probably apparent. I think just re-imagining classical stories is what I'm attracted to.

K: In Le Serpent Rouge!, you sampled contemporary recording artists such as Peggy Lee and Earth Kitt to score the production. What are some other contemporary touchstones you enjoy accenting your pieces with?

A: Well, I mean, it's funny about the Peggy Lee, actually, in Le Serpent Rouge!. I was reading this short story, "Disillusionment", and I was researching it and it turned out that there had been a pop song written based on that short story which Peggy Lee sang. It's, like, you're gonna start with these sources and then you sort of figure out how they lead you other places. I actually read a lot of Charles Bukowski. He's my favorite writer and I'm very inspired by his writing. I look at a lot of fashion magazines and things like that when we're designing the shows. A lot of Vogue and things like that. I mean, the whole approach to design in terms of... I really early on try to sort of pull in those ideas so, that were not...I think a lot of people approach costume and set as the last stage of the process. For me, it happens earlier on so, I understand where the play is taking place and what the environment is and best execution of movement. I try to think about that very early.

K: What are your hopes for Company XIV?

A: At this point, I'm really hoping to get more exposure for the work. Just to tour and get the shows out there a bit more. But, the dream for me, artistically, is just to keep creating and keep pushing myself to grow and to keep pushing the dancers as well. Ultimately, I would love to work more in opera. Maybe do some more film work. It's been going pretty well so far!

Company XIV's production of The Apple Trilogy: The Judgment of Paris, Le Serpent Rouge!, and Snow White are all running in rep beginning December 3rd through January 17th at 303 Bond Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and are available online at or by calling (212) 868-4444.