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Austin McCormick

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A Modern Spin on Baroque Dance

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It really was a disaster. In October 2012, the gorgeous floor of Company XIV’s dance studio—lovingly converted over the previous six years from an old tow-truck warehouse—was completely trashed, a victim of Superstorm Sandy. 

Austin McCormick
(Photo by Cristina Ramirez)

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Just over four months later, sitting in a café near Juilliard, Austin McCormick (B.F.A. ’06, dance) was surprisingly upbeat considering the destruction of his studio performance space. McCormick had founded Company XIV, known for its lavish Baroque-based, modern-infused, burlesque-tinged performances—variously described as punk-Baroque and neo-Baroque—shortly after graduating. “I’m working on a new chapter and a new fusion,” he says. 

McCormick’s specialty has been fusion almost since he started dancing. “My parents said I wanted to do ballet when I was 4,” the 29-year-old Santa Barbara, Calif., native remembers. “They were surprised, but they’ve been very supportive.” Little Austin started taking lessons, and one of his teachers turned out to be a historian of French dance with a specialty in the Baroque. “It was super-specialized and kind of rare to study, but I loved studying it in its pure form,” he says.

Having a background in Baroque dance was not the norm when he got to Juilliard—nor was his realization partway through that he didn’t want to become a professional dancer after graduation. “Some of my teachers encouraged me [to pursue choreography]; some thought I should leave,” he recalls. “But now with some perspective, I’m very glad I stayed and finished. There are schools that have choreography emphases, but being a performer in main-stage classics really forms you—it’s been very helpful in my work. That kind of training is something you’re so happy for when you have it.”

And while Juilliard’s program is devoted to training professional dancers, there were lots of choreography opportunities, which can be rare in conservatories. “I had access to such incredible dancers and this very full program—you had to figure out these inspirations and how to fuse them together, and it was a very fruitful time.” In fact, lots of members of his class were pursuing choreography, McCormick says. “We were fueled by each other and pushed by each other.”

Two members of Company XIV are Juilliard grads—Laura Careless (B.F.A. ’07) and Jeff Sykes (B.F.A. ’11)—and McCormick frequently brings in other Juilliard students and graduates for performances. Most of his work has been lush mashups of Baroque and modern with burlesque and other styles thrown in. Another trademark is fabulous costumes. “In other dance forms the costumes almost seem like an afterthought, but a huge part of what I love about Baroque is that the costumes and the dance are very much related. You train in a corset and it becomes part of the deportment and personality of the piece,” McCormick says. “I wanted to make immersive theater that unites choreography, costume design, lighting, design, and music and doesn’t just add them at the end.”

At the moment his repertory works—including  Judge Me Paris; Lover. Muse. Mockingbird. Whore.; Le Serpent Rouge; Pinocchio; and Snow White—are on hold, but McCormick is keeping busy. In March he choreographed an Edith Piaf-inspired work for Juilliard dancers that was presented at a Juilliard Council fund-raiser and also choreographed the U.S. premiere of Cavalli’s Eliogablo, a Gotham Chamber Opera production, at the Box. In November, his choreography will debut in a new Chicago Lyric Opera production of La Traviata

But what about the fact that Company XIV’s Brooklyn home is out of commission? McCormick isn’t quite ready to say what’s happening next, but he notes that the “model of the traditional dance company is changing. The new version will still have opera and dance, but maybe with more of a cabaret style.”

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