Best Bets

Nutcracker Rouge

Conceived, Directed, and Choreographed by Austin McCormick
Produced by Company XIV

Off Broadway, Dance/Burlesque
Runs through 1.18.15
XIV, 428 Lafayette Street


by Jason Rost on 12.18.14

Nutcracker RougeLaura Careless in Nutcracker Rouge. Photo by Joshua Flannigan.


BOTTOM LINE: A spectacularly classy, yet raunchy, baroque burlesque retelling of the holiday classic.

It’d be obvious to say that Company XIV’s revival of their ballet, burlesque, and baroque show Nutcracker Rouge is the perfect holiday theatrical alternative to the usual feel good marshmallow fluff. But, it’s even more than that -- it’s simply dazzling and seductive storytelling utilizing the logic-defying talents of artists. Nutcracker Rouge is a raunchy burlesque full of pasties, gender bending, and acrobatic feats done in the near nude. However, it’s also a beautiful artistic retelling of a classic fairy tale done through creator Austin McCormick and Company XIV’s seduction of all the senses. Yes, all five senses, starting with the potent aphrodisiac incense that fill the room to the cocktail you may order from your server, or the candy cane that may get handed to you out of the cleavage of emcee Shelly Watson.

Company XIV’s new space on Lafayette Street, across the street from The Public, has an upscale speakeasy vibe. You wouldn’t even know there’s a jewel box of a theatre behind the mixology-centric bar upon entering. A host escorts you into the atmospheric performance space and seats you in either your love seat (costing upwards of $175 per person) or a bar chair on risers ($75). Needless to say, this Nutcracker is a splurge. In addition to the actual show, a primary component of the evening is soaking up the environment and people watching while sipping a themed libation in the midst of opulence. This is a company whose name derives from Louis XIV after all.

As for the actual performance, it’s simply intoxicating. McCormick is a choreographer with a background in baroque and ballet. Both are on full display throughout the night. The burlesque and nudity in the show actually serves the primary plot of this adaptation rather than existing for pure titillation. The protagonist is Marie Claire (a virtuoso performance by Laura Careless), who is sent by a magical nutcracker to another world. In this bawdy candy-themed realm she is sexually liberated and/or corrupted, all the while maturing to become a powerful dominant Sugar Plum Fairy.

Along the way Marie meets the likes of the Turkish Delight duo. Played by Allison Ulrich and Steven Trumon Gray, these two put on one of the more heart stopping feats of the evening as they intertwine and dance a duet on a vertical pole. Candy Cane (Courtney Giannnone) captivates the crowd as well with her gravity-defying Cyr Wheel act. The action moves literally above the audience’s heads in Ulrich and Giannone’s aerialist number. Katrina Cunningham lends her liquid voice to the Lana Del Rey number as the ladies spin over the audience. 

McCormick does an excellent job at balancing high and low art in the show. He uses modern music like Shelly Watson’s rendition of “Material Girl” while also incorporating classic Tchaikovsky pieces from the original Nutcracker. There’s a massively fun slapstick orgy complete with a giant stuffed phallus. Still, the show never strays too far from maintaining a steamy seductive tone, turning violent at times like an S&M fueled ballet.

Zane Pihlstrom’s costume and set design creates its own eye candy throughout the show taking advantage of a deceptively deep stage in such a small space. Aided by Jeanette Yew's lighting and haze, the curtains reveal just as much as the layers of clothing that are pulled off in ingenious ways throughout the night. 

The final pas de deux ballet with Careless and Todd Hanebrink brought about gasps in the audience in both its beauty and sexually charged physicality. Careless brings flawless ballet talent to this final number while Hanebrink is commanding and graceful with his athleticism. You may have come to the burlesque for a hot date night, some sexy entertainment, and a few drinks; you'll be surprised that in addition you're also taking in truly a high level of live art. It's like sweet sweet candy that's actually good for you! 

(Nutcracker Rouge plays at XIV, 428 Lafayette Street, through Sunday, January 18, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at 8PM; December 20th, January 16th and 17th at 10PM. Tickets are $75-$175 and are available at or by calling 212.677.1444.)