The Judgment of Paris
Duo Theater, NYC
January 8–February 1, 2009
Reviewed by Pia Catton
Photo by Steven Schreiber. Laura Careless, Yeva Glover,
and Davon Rainey
of Company XIV.
There aren’t many productions in which the goddess Aphrodite’s alter ego turns out to be a Russian madam wearing a corset and feather boa. But such is the case in Company XIV’s The Judgment of Paris. Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Austin McCormick, the one-hour show is both dance and theater––and just a touch burlesque.
A convivial tone is set early. Narrator Seth Numrich hangs around the lobby greeting guests, while the dancers mill about (in character) on a stage without a curtain. When the lights go down, however, the casual mood ceases and Numrich commands attention. By way of an introduction, he announces, “The Judgment of Paris, a dramatic entertainment, after the manner of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as it was performed at the Theatre Royale.”
At which point, a can-can begins. The choreography incorporates the dancers’ long, ruffled skirts to tease the audience. The heavy yards of silk fabric are lifted, swished, and bunched up for a round of the traditional kicks. The silk corsets on the dancers’ waists keep the movement elongated and the bosoms prominent (though the women are also wearing bras).
The ancient story of The Judgment of Paris is then told in movement and spoken word––with the narrator and the dancers acting out the tale together. A peroxide-blonde vixen, Aphrodite (Gioia Marchese) ultimately delivers Helen (Elyssa Dole), the most beautiful woman in the world, to Paris (Numrich). The Trojan War provides a high point: Dancers in bodysuits and helmets grasp each other and appear to wrestle or torture each other with deliberate, slow motions.
After the war, Helen winds up dazed and rejected––and working as a stripper who needs to be taught the moves. The dancers bat their eyes while opening their knock-knees as they would open a door or wave to the audience through a raised, bent leg. Numrich then takes a back seat and the magnetic Marchese presides. In a heavy Russian accent, she goads the audience to enjoy the fall of the once-proud Helen.
McCormick studied Baroque dance and incorporates it into his work. But this influence is subtle. What’s immediately clear is the range of dance that he has deftly woven together with concise spoken word and poignant music, from Arvo Pärt to Marlene Dietrich to Vivaldi. McCormick has a gift for understanding what captivates an audience––so much so that the show has a cinematic feel. That said, this piece is far better than a night at the movies.
See it for yourself at dancemedia.com!
Click here to watch excerpts from The Judgment of Paris.