BWW Feature: AUSTIN MCCORMICK - The Ringmaster of Classical Music's Future
With today's social media feeds providing a variable feast of juxtaposition, it's invigorating to watch Austin Mccormick pointedly understand and translate this aspect of modern living onto the stage. He perfectly captures the sensibility of today's generation, one that embraces the ambiguity of life, art, and the pursuit of happiness, at Company XIV - the vehicle for his orgy of artistic creativity.
I attended his production of Cinderella recently and when I walked into the space, I had no idea what to expect. Once inside, I was immediately greeted by a beautiful black man - who was well over 6 feet tall - in heels, costume jewels, and a fur my aunts from Texas would covet. Immediately, I knew that whatever was about to happen would stretch me - both as an audience member and as a human. And it did.
I was helped to my seat by a man with androgynously beautiful features. He settled me in, winked, and grazed my arm as he slunk away, peering into my soul with a lingering gaze - using his heels to assist him in swiveling his thonged ass back and forth as he went. I tried not to spill my perfectly crafted cocktail as I digested the unexpected sensuality of our encounter. I'd been to burlesque performances before - but that's not what this was. This was something special. You could smell it.
The show opened with 'Belle Nuit' from Les contes d'Hoffmann, sung in the opera by the courtesan Giulietta and Nicklausse (who is traditionally a mezzo trouser role) - brilliantly integrating, from the downbeat, what would become an evening of Austin's gender cat and mouse play. And, just like Hoffman, I was seduced. The piece unfolded unapologetically and as I watched, I saw our country's sexual revolution play out in front of me. Gender was something that didn't matter - it almost didn't exist - and yet its importance was paramount. Austin bent, twisted and gnarled preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity, leaving me with an immersively sensual experience. With its undeniable importance to him and the work, I asked Austin about his take on gender.
"I've always been interested in gender and performance of gender on stage and now I am more aware of the fact that it's something to explore. [Company XIV] is this inclusive environment where all bodies, genders and sexualities are celebrated."
This stance was clear throughout the piece. The decisions behind his musical choices, however, were not. They were consistently surprising - but never jarring. We would transition from one piece to the next before I would realize that we had jumped 400 years. It was clear that he was "...incorporating what [he] loves...," but these love affairs fused in ways that defied reason. There were more styles of music integrated than should make sense, and yet - they worked perfectly. Austin wove together a streamlined tightrope of musical genius so taut that you couldn't imagine a world where Baroque didn't transition into rap, into flamenco, into Irish folk music. I asked him who tells him no, assuming that this finished piece is a product of someone reeling in some unbridled, reckless creative process. His response?
"I don't hear 'no' that often,"
This didn't make sense to me. The bawdy, raucous choices that characterized the essence of the production - and, seemingly, the company - teetered so perfectly on the edge of foppish absurdity, that I couldn't imagine one person was able to construct such clearly refined danger.
"A lot of theatre is made in a committee atmosphere, but I think it's important to have that one person who is ultimately making those decisions - to make it clean and clear... My policy is that if I love and understand the show, other people will too. I make the show for myself. If I'm laughing or titillated, then I think that's how other people will feel. I'm not making the show for strangers, I'm making it for me."
This approach can either propel work to ultimate success, or gut it before it's had a chance to take flight. And here? It's what makes it uniquely special. There is something about his work that defies simple explanation. It's sensuously indulgent and keeps you coming back in hopes of satiating your hunger until the next time you'll, inevitably, need it again. Austin, please continue being a self-professed "...crazy, psycho control freak," because it's working. We need more of this vision within the classical community. It's this firm finger on the pulse of an evolving society that must be integrated into classical music if we want to see its life continue to grow and evolve. Without this evolution, it will wind up dead in the water. Austin, here's hoping you continue growing your influence as the ringmaster of classical music's future.
Go see Cinderella at Company XIV now through June 3 and keep an eye out for their summer boylesque production of Ferdinand and the Bull, which promises to be stuffed full of sexy bullfighting and an excess of tequila. This fall, their production is still in development - but will be inspired by the 7 deadly sins. I'm not sure how much more sinful they can get, but I'm sure as hell going to show up to find out...