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William S. Gooch Talks to Austin McCormick of Company XIV

Click here for Katherine Heller's Review of The Judgment of Paris

Opposite Photo: Dancers in Company XIV's Production of Austin Mc Cormick's
The Judgment of Paris

Photo Credit Steven Schreiber

 

 

Austin McCormick: Making Old New Again

Powdered wigs, corseted ladies and choreography with no pyrotechnical fireworks might not add up to a grand night of entertainment for today’s theatergoers. However, Austin McCormick, artistic director of Company XIV, has transformed a four hundred-year old dance form into something relevant and entertaining. In his very short twenty-four years, this young terpsichorean has learned what some choreographers take a lifetime to learn; that borrowing from the past only works if your own personal style shines through.

“Only God creates, I just assemble very well,” said George Balanchine to a noted dance critic. Based on what Austin McCormick has done so far, he is communing and learning from the Gods. And we all do a grande reverence to his bright future.


The Judgment of Paris
Photo Credit Steven Schreiber

William S. Gooch: What kind of dance troupe is Company XIV?

Austin McCormick: We work in a lot of dance styles. My background is in Baroque dance, and I also graduated from Julliard where I studied a lot of contemporary techniques. Company XIV has also been about me developing my choreographic voice. Company XIV is a fusion of various acting techniques, period dance and contemporary techniques.

William S. Gooch: When did you found the company?

Austin McCormick: I choreographed a summer project in 2005 while I was still at Julliard. I also was beginning to work in film at that time. Company XIV grew out of my summer dance project.

William S. Gooch: I noticed in your most recent performance that there is Baroque dance combined with contemporary techniques. Is this particular synthesis going to be the company style?

Austin McCormick: That synthesis will be a style we will continue to employ. Some pieces we’ve done in the past were more Baroque dance based, but we are now working on dance works that are more narrative in nature.

William S. Gooch: Where did your interest in Baroque dance come from?

Austin McCormick: I started studying Baroque dance when I was eight at the Griffin Dance Center in Santa Barbara with a kind of eccentric, amazing French woman, Regine Astier, who was also a dance historian. I studied with her until I went away to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts. What is interesting about studying Baroque dance is that you learn where the rudiments of classical ballet come from.

William S. Gooch: Did you ever study with Catherine Turocy of the New York Baroque Dance Company?

Austin McCormick: No, I haven’t studied with her, but Company XIV collaborated with the New York Baroque Dance Company on a dance work this past September at the Mark Morris Center in Brooklyn.

William S. Gooch: In this new work, The Judgment of Paris, you incorporate contemporary techniques as well as the beautiful ronde de jambes par terre and glissades one would expect to see in Baroque dance. What I found surprising is that you also choreographed some can can steps in the ballet. Why the can can?

Austin McCormick: I did a lot of research before I choreographed this piece and the first version I saw of The Judgment of Paris is a version done by Regine Astier, which was very Baroque in nature. In my research I came across Offenbach’s La Belle Helene, which is very Parisian and evokes the can can feeling. I used the can can in the ballet as a transitional element from one section to the next. Plus, it makes the piece a little bawdier and sexier.

William S. Gooch: Where does the Marlene Dietrich/Aphrodite concept that you use in the ballet come from?

Austin McCormick: In all my research Helen of Troy is described as blonde and very beautiful. Since Aphrodite is manipulating the plot of the ballet, I wanted Helen to be in the image of Aphrodite, the original blonde. I made Aphrodite the iconic blonde in the tradition of Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich or Bridget Bardot.

William S. Gooch: The cupids that form Aphrodite’s entourage are kind of Busby Berkeley blondes. Why that approach?

Austin McCormick: I made Aphrodite’s minions very 42nd Street, Busby Berkeley as a tongue-in-cheek response to what you might find in tableaus in baroque dance.


The Judgment of Paris
Photo Credit Steven Schreiber

William S. Gooch: I also observed that Aphrodite in this ballet is quite zaftig. Why did you cast a voluptuous woman as Aphrodite?

Austin McCormick: I wanted Aphrodite to have the romantic curves that women had in baroque art. I also wanted to present a different perception of what beauty is.

William S. Gooch: The women are very corseted in The Judgment of Paris and in many of your other works. Why that choice of costume or presentation?

Austin McCormick: Corsets are a huge part of the undergarments worn in Baroque dance. Also, corsets, which constrict the torso, cause you to choreograph differently than if you have a more flexible torso.

William S. Gooch: Company XIV has only six performers; do you ever perform with the company?

Austin McCormick: I try to stick to choreographing and directing the company. I did perform in a piece we did at Symphony Space this year, but I prefer to stay on the outside.

William S. Gooch: In the siege of Troy scene, victorious soldiers leave the battleground with defeated, wounded soldiers holding on to the ankles of the victors. What were you trying to imply with that movement?

Austin McCormick: I was implying that in war the casualties are always with us, whether physically or emotionally. Even though we may pull the wounded off the battleground or bury the dead, you can’t get away from the guilt and desecration of war.

William Gooch: What is next for Company XIV?

Austin McCormick: We are taking a version of The Judgment of Paris to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. I am beginning to choreography a piece which is three one acts based on a Tennessee Williams play, a Jean Cocteau play, and Charles Bukowski poetry. The Jean Cocteau play is a one-act play he wrote for Edith Piaf called La Belle Indifference. I am also setting the war section from The Judgment of Paris for City Dance in Washington, DC later this summer.

William S. Gooch: Thank so much for this incredible interview and good luck in the future.

Austin McCormick: Thank you. This was a lot of fun.

The Judgment of Paris runs May 9 - 31, 2008 in a limited engagement at 303 Bond Street (between Union & Sackett) in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The show plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and can be purchased online at http://www.SmartTix.com or by calling 212-868-4444. For more information on Company XIV visit http://www.CompanyXIV.com.

303 Bond Street| Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Between Union & Sackett



 

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