If it's a choice between naughty and nice, Nutcracker Rouge chooses naughty. And we can all give thanks.
A racy, risqué burlesque-cum-ballet version of the beloved story, Nutcracker Rouge, now off-Broadway at Minetta Lane Theater, is fast becoming a holiday tradition.
While it adheres, in part, to the original, Company XIV's version veers from Marie-Claire visiting the Kingdom of Sweets into an adult journey navigating the Kingdom of Sex.
It's a deliciously decadent, sumptuously erotic tale, which retains Tchaikovsky's soaring music, but adds several pop tunes, accompanied by Austin McCormick's glorious choreography. There are several scenes so exquisite it will bring tears to your eyes.
Madame Drosselmeyer (a fantastic Shelley Watson) still offers a wooden nutcracker, and when the clock strikes midnight, it's magic time. Sporting a Sophie Tucker/Bette Midler bawdiness, Watson narrates the action and belts out her numbers with bravura. The extraordinary dancer Laura Careless takes on the role of Marie-Claire, a naive young woman who traverses a land of sensual and mysterious pleasures.
Be it the Licorice Boys, the Turkish Delights or the Candy Canes, this is not your mother's Nutcracker.
It is a visual feast of Zane Pihistrom's stunning, inventive costumes and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's amazingly evocative lighting. The dance ensemble, including Marcy Richardson's aerial feats, is as eye-popping for their physiques as their talent. Whether in or out of their baroque-style garb, the company and direction astound.
And the climax -- Careless performing an astoundingly passionate Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux with Nutcracker prince Steven Trumon Gray -- will take your breath away.
There is one essential on any holiday list: a trip to Nutcracker Rouge.
For the kids, there is Cirque Mechanics' Pedal Punk at the New Victory Theater -- a steampunk-inspired acrobatic effort, with neo-Victorian costume and props. Here, a charming mechanic who runs a bike shop interacts with unusual cyclists.
Suddenly, ordinary objects -- a bike wheel, hula hoop, unicycle or rope -- become co-partners in a circus act. The grace of the gymnastics, from aerialists to the trampoline, diabolo to the rola bola, teamed with a distinct visual sensibility, is a crowd-pleaser.
Creative director Chris Lashua, himself a BMX Freestyle rider and former Cirque du Soleil vet, indulges his love of all things cycle and circus, to fashion the company's newest act. Choreographer Aloysia Gavre can turn a bent wheel into a mechanism for physical feats, exploiting the company's talent.
But buyers beware: the decibel level is ridiculously high. If you go, pack earplugs.
Photos: Nutcracker Rouge/ Mark Shelby Perry