Center Stage Theater hosts all types of performances, but I’ve rarely stepped inside the black box and been so surprised by the transformation of the space. Curtainless and bare-walled, the room was dominated by a long dining table covered with silverware. Six dancers were poised around it whispering amongst themselves, already in character. In a far corner, a stepladder climbed to a gilt-framed mirror. Smoke and an enormous chandelier lent the scene a hazy glow of extravagance. I almost forgot to find a seat.
This was Company XIV’s Don’t Come Around, which director Austin McCormick describes as an exploration of the decadence of the Baroque form in relationship to Charles Bukowski’s poetry.
His choreography referenced Baroque dances in the symmetry of the floor patterns and the way dancers gestured with unfolding arms, as if inviting one another to dance. But the dancing was post-modern. Limbs swung effortlessly in their sockets as if the dancers had been feasting and drinking all evening, and yet the performers moved deftly, creating alternately graceful and grotesque shapes. Costumed in tailored corsets, tulle skirts, and jacquard coats, they looked like courtesans, but not freshly powdered and wigged: rather, gritty and coarse. Vivaldi and Bach provided the score as an intensely sensual narrative mounted between four women and two men.
Then the piece shifted. As if McCormick meant literally to turn Baroque on its side, the set and props were pushed into a corner and covered with plastic. The opulence of the previous surroundings gave way to half-dressed bodies exploring sexual passion, and ultimately its destructive power over the psyche. Recordings of Bukowski’s poetry enhanced the quality of socially taboo subject matter. “I like to imagine what’s under there,” a male voice declared, while the audience watched the female dancers posturing in prone positions before the men undressed them down to slips and stockings. Particularly stunning was a female solo performed by the light of an antique film projector. The effect was like watching an image moving inside an old-fashioned pornographic flipbook.
Bukowski’s words ended the evening: “To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art.” McCormick’s nouveau Baroque was dangerously stylish and Don’t Come Around an intoxicating feast for the senses.