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SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT A New York slant on 'La Traviata'
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

Anyone who pays attention to the hip theater and dance scene in Brooklyn and Manhattan will notice that the young creative staff for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of La Traviata is filled with up-and-coming New York notables.

Director Arin Arbus, named in 2009 by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as "the most gifted new director to emerge this year," makes her Lyric debut directing Giuseppe Verdi's 1853 romantic tragedy. Also making their Lyric debuts on the production are costume designer Cait O'Connor, lighting designer Marcus Doshi and acclaimed out choreographer Austin McCormick, the founder and driving force of the acclaimed New York dance troupe Company XIV.

"This is my first project on this scale," said McCormick, who previously collaborated with Arbus for a production of Much Ado About Nothing for the New York company Theatre for a New Audience, where she is associate artistic director. ( The company also recently made news for opening its first permanent theater space in Brooklyn with director Julie Taymor's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. )

Arbus specifically sought McCormick to choreograph La Traviata, and he's hoping to possibly ruffle a few feathers by presenting some very earthy dances in Flora's Spanish-themed Act III party scene.

"The idea behind is that this troupe just shows up at this party and that they're rough street performers, so they really bring a different kind of sensuality to the proceedings," said McCormick, adding that a touch of gender-bending and the use of elaborate puppetry all come into play as well. Even though the party is full of courtesans ( high-priced prostitutes ) and their customers, McCormick said even they will express some shock at the earthiness of the visiting troupe.

In terms of sensuality, that's a big part of what McCormick is known for in creating works for Company XIV. For instance, his acclaimed take on The Nutcracker called Nutcracker Rouge is a bawdy burlesque spin on the classic holiday ballet filled with powdered wigs, corsets and go-go boys. Audiences under the age of 18 are not admitted to many of McCormick's dance pieces.

Read more story below....

Another of McCormick's specialties, his love and emphasis on baroque ballet choreography and costuming, also gets a bit of an outing in the Lyric's new La Traviata. McCormick said that Arbus' approach to the Act I party scene is that of an 18th-century-themed dessert costume party complete with powdered wigs.

"Cait is designing the costumes to be 1860s-specific, but with a sort of baroque costume on top of it," McCormick said. "Both parties in the opera are contextualized to be theme parties. There's a lot of room for beautiful costumes, for sure."

The Lyric's new La Traviata replaces out director Frank Galati's two-decade-old production, and it's a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. McCormick is excited that he'll be able to share his work on La Traviata with in major cities and to rework his choreography on a different company of dancers.

One issue McCormick is still dealing with is the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which caused extensive flooding damage to the Brooklyn rehearsal and performance spaces for Company XIV. While the space is being repaired, Company XIV has been moving its performances to other theaters around town.

In the future McCormick would love to work again with director Arbus, and even tackle directing a full-length opera himself—particularly baroque works.

"Baroque opera is sort of where my heart is right now," McCormick said. "Any opportunity to work on baroque material is a dream of mine."

The Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata plays 10 performances at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20, 23, 30, Dec. 3, 9 and 20 with 2 p.m. matinees Nov. 27, Dec. 6, 12 and 15. Performances are sung in Italian with projected English translations. Tickets are $54-$284. For more information, call ( 312 ) 332-2244, ext. 5600, or visit www.lyricopera.org . For more information on Austin McCormick and Company XIV, visit www.companyxiv.com .

Crossing the footlights

( or tasteless self-promotion )

When I worked as an arts writer and second-string theater critic for the Salt Lake Tribune from 1999-2002, one of my most interesting stories came about from appearing in a community theater production of 42nd Street in 2000.

The story was originally supposed to be about what it's like to go through the audition process, but the theater asked if I could be in the production since they really needed men. To avoid conflict-of-interest accusations, the feature about my experiences on the other side of the footlights ran after the show closed.

But one of the complaints I got from actors who missed 42nd Street was that they didn't get a chance to see how I measured up as a performer—especially since I got to pass judgment as a critic on their performances.

So in that light of a critic being critiqued, let mention that I'm appearing as Pirelli in the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines through Sunday, Nov. 24. The 1979 Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical has always been one of my top favorites, so I took a chance on auditioning once I got permission from my employers.

I'd forgotten how exhausting and time-consuming doing theater on top of a full-time job can be, and how there are so many chances for things to go wrong. So hopefully this foray on the stage will give me more empathy for those I'll be critiquing in the future.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues through Sunday, Nov. 24, at Oakton Community College, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10; call 847-635-1900 or visit www.oakton.edu .

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