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Let’s Keep Dancing … At The Company XIV Workshop

by Karen Tortora-Lee on March 8, 2012

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Even casual readers of The Happiest Medium know that when it comes to Company XIV and Austin McCormick I am reduced to a screaming fan-girl.  I am older, of course -not a girl, so my screaming is done on the inside (most of the time), but when it comes to this neo-baroque dance ensemble everything about them makes my heart race, my temperature elevate and my eyes tear up. Every time I walk through the doors of the theatre at Bond Street I shiver with antici ————————-pation about what will greet me – for here I have seen the most dazzling pieces of multi-media theatre I have ever experienced.  EVER.

This week Company XIV has been holding a workshop where Austin McCormick, Laura Careless and guest instructors have been showing gifted dancers the Company XIV way.   I will be moderating a discussion with Austin from 1.15pm-3pm tomorrow, Friday, March 9 at the Company XIV studio at 303 Bond Street, Brooklyn. If you’re free, come on down.  If you’re busy – break your plans.  Because after you read this, you’ll want to see this man in person.

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on the workshop Tuesday afternoon and even though I was there for hours the time flew and my mind raced as I was captivated by what I saw unfold before me.  This opportunity was like a dream come true – akin to (I can only imagine) being able to go to spring training if you love baseball.  It’s watching your idol, your hero, behind the curtain, in the process of creating magic in a way that few ever get to experience.

I wish I could spend every day with Laura Careless and Austin McCormick.  Theirs is a world so opposite of mine – the world of breathing, movement, communing with your core – yourself, your space.  My world is about sitting, observing and then writing — hoping that my words adequately translate what I’ve experienced in a way that tantalized the readers.  And even though I meet dozens of people doing what I do, and even though I am part of a community and a team, it is rare that my actual work involves anyone other than me.

For anyone who has ever seen a Company XIV show there can be no question —  there is an energy, a type of spell that falls over the space where they dance, binding performers to audience.  McCormick (who conceives, directs and choreographs all his shows) blends eroticism with beauty, each movement somehow conveying ecstasy and anguish at the same time. It’s bitter and sweet – it’s longing and loss wrapped in joy and celebration.  Every time. Every time.

Very often when you meet your heroes they are so much less in person than they are from afar. They disappoint by being less spectacular up close – less of the magical creatures  you see from your seat in the dark.  Not so the members of Company XIV. Laura Careless, Sean Gannon and Austin McCormick are gorgeous in person – and I don’t mean on the spectrum of beauty, though they have that as well.  They are gorgeous because they shine with talent, with energy, with enthusiasm for what they do, and the eagerness to share it.  They glow with vitality, they glimmer with the fire that comes from doing what you love to do, and doing it well every time. They are warm, welcoming … they capture you with their spirit in person as much as they do from the stage.

On Tuesday I took my spot and first watched Laura Careless teach a class. I see something I can hardly put into words begin to happen; her class is beautiful and smooth, with moments of sudden release,  all done in this almost reverent environment of Austin’s studio/performance space.  The ambiance is as captivating as the class, beautiful old chandeliers light the room, coupled with natural daylight streaming in through the skylight.  The class takes place amid what’s left of the Snow White show I saw just a short while ago – a silver tree, glowing orbs of light.  It is both a dramatic effect and yet completely commonplace, for this (as I said) is 303 Bond street where everything is stunning.

I watch Laura’s class – her gestures are free, gorgeous, wild.  There was falling to the floor and springing to the feet, bouncing, twirling; with movements which students were interpreting  in their own style – some open and unrestrained, some tight and precise, but somehow all fitting together and looking amazing.

Laura ended her class with a meditation, one where each student was guided to thank their body for allowing it to give so much.  This simple gesture took my breath away; we often don’t thank ourselves for our own talents, we often don’t recognize what we do for ourselves, the gift we give ourselves.   And of course this gave me a moment to silently thank these dancers for giving me so much as well; perhaps they felt my thanks, perhaps they only felt the energy that increased in the room.

There was a break, but dancers dance.  Even between dancing, they dance.  They may not even know they do it, but dancers always dance.  I love that.

Up next was Austin’s workshop and here’s where I got to watch the master at work.

I work with words.  Words are fixed and I know what to expect from them, although I am often surprised by how a subtle pairing or combination will shade the meaning, giving a nuance I didn’t expect.  I love to play with words and find that sweet spot.   Austin McCormick has something  much more amazing and organic to work with of course, and because human beings are living and breathing and moving, they can contribute to his internal vision.  Watching Austin as he watched his vision come alive was an experience I’ll never forget.

He is sure and precise but completely at ease.  This is his element, there is no hesitation, no second guessing, no frustration.  With the help of  Laura  they take the dancers through the routine slowly at first. At times it’s so exquisite that it’s like hearing a word whispered slowly in French.  Keep in mind, this isn’t a dance class, this is a true workshop: a place where ridiculously talented people are learning the XIV way.  So I shouldn’t be astonished at how quickly the dancers pick up the spellbinding choreography, but I am.

It’s wonderful to be able to see how these pieces come to life, to see Laura talk through the movements alongside Austin.  She speaks automatically and without hesitation. She says things like “on your hands, BAM!, thread your knee, roll back, extend back with arch” She speaks with as much ease and grace as Olivier recited Shakespeare … “Slip, cross, step, grab leg, bring it in, hand to face”.

While I don’t pretend to ever have been a dancer – not even a 3 year old weekend jazz/tap baby – I can’t help but think that Austin has created a language all his own.  I listen as he directs the dancers to move with words like “snippety … to the heart” There’s a deep poetry to it that would put e.e. cummings to shame.  There are words like Ninja Ladies, Picture, Open Heart, Cowabunga. I love how it sounds. I love more how it looks.  I love most how it makes me feel.

Writing this story was easy; surprisingly so – it was as if Austin McCormick, Laura Careless and Sean Gannon had gotten hold of my hands and were choreographing my fingers.  I sat alone, up high in the bleachers, like a fly on the wall, watching these dancers and letting the creativity boomerang around the room, allowing it to somehow capture me in the energy as well.  Like a medium who goes into trance, I watched for hours and when I came home later that night and read what I’d written it was like I was reading my words for the first time.  Which proves my theory.  This  ability Austin McCormick has to create magic transcends dance. It reaches out and embraces, influences, and inspires all manner of artists, be they singers, dancers, actors or writers — of fiction or of fact.

I’ll end with a snippet of a song that was being played in the studio at some point while I was there. Again, simply because dancers dance even when they aren’t dancing, I couldn’t tell if they were on a break or working out a routine.  Of course it didn’t matter … and this song will tell you why:

When I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth.

There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears

And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.

And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle

I had the feeling that something was missing.

I don’t know what, but when it was over,

I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?”


Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball

If that’s all there is


I leave you once more with a reminder that tomorrow you’ll have a chance to attend the discussion I will be moderating with Austin McCormick 1.15pm-3pm on Friday, March 9 at the Company XIV studio at 303 Bond Street, Brooklyn.

See you there!


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