Three women dance into the decaying theater, vying for a golden apple. The first, Hera (Laura Careless), performs a short ballet, hoping to win the approval of Paris (Seth Numrich). The second, Athena (Yeva Glover), bursts into a short flapping jazz number, never mind the shimmery armor. But it is Aphrodite (Gioia Marchese), with her "give the audience what it wants" fan burlesque who wins the day. This, The Judgement of Paris, leads--through Austin McCormick's gracefully choreographed violence--to the rape of Helen (Elyssa Dole), that Everywoman, giving truth to the phrase "ravishing beauty."
McCormick's piece could not have found a better place than the Duo Theater, the sort of decayed Moulin Rouge-type place, gilded proscenium and all, that signifies the cost of maintaining beauty. The free Ferrero Rocher on every chair (an expensive type of cheap chocolate) and Olivera Gajic's slightly frayed can-can costumes are further extensions of that thought; Marchese's interpretation of Aphrodite as the Russian mistress of a brothel solidifies it. While these consistencies hold things together, McCormick (and his Company XIV ensemble) are free to giddily romp through their spin on Paris's story. And though they pull from several sources (including, rather appropriately, Chuck Mee's Agamemmnon 2.0), it's their own text, which creates the sort of coherent throughline that experimental works benefit from.
This doesn't mean that some of the images aren't confusing. For instance, it's unclear what Davon Rainey, cross-dressing as one of the frolicking "cupids" of the play, represents (though not to his discredit; his dancing is superb). However, given the clear theme, we can draw our own conclusions, as we do when ruffling skirts are made to seem like waves, or a slow sensual dance in the smoky dark can resemble a dance of fallen warriors, if the music and monologue give it such a context. Of course, the play is strongest when everything merges: when a single spotlight remains fixed on a befuddled Helen and the other dancers cruelly move her to the choreography, the result is heartbreaking.
McCormick has labeled The Judgment of Paris as "a dramatic entertainment." Thankfully, he has not tarnished the beauty of either one.