Who'd have thought that a golden apple could cause so much trouble? In the time before the Trojan War, Paris, Prince of Troy, is given an apple which he is to bestow onto the most beautiful goddess. Does he choose Hera, who promises him power; Athena, who promises him fame; or Aphrodite, who promises him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen? He chooses Aphrodite, and so Company XIV's The Judgment of Paris begins, tracing the course of the Trojan War from its very beginning. A piece of dance theater, baroque stylings and the can-can are featured as prominently as the story of Paris and Helen is.
The set is visible to the audience from the moment they enter Company XIV's space in Brooklyn. Scaffolds line both sides of the stage, under which are dressing and prop areas. The space in between is bare. Performers mill about, pulling on costumes, adjusting their hair, and casually greeting friends who enter. The lights dim, and a rousing can-can dance begins.
The dance is energetic, as is all of the dance in the show. When the war begins, four dancers move across the fog covered stage, two of the dancers lie on the ground and clasp the ankles of the other two, who drag the prostrate bodies over the floor. The strength of the dance makes the weakness of the acting and the much abbreviated story all that much more noticeable. Instead of allowing events to unfold on their own on stage, narration constantly interrupts the story, as if the audience needed to be reminded that it was watching a performance. The same actor portrays the narrator, Paris, and Menelaus, using the same well enunciated but flat tone for each character. It is unclear why Aphrodite, goddess of passion and love, should be the one to help ready the soldiers for war. At the end of the war, with Paris dead and Troy in ruins, Menelaus tells his (former?) wife Helen that she is a whore and a murder. His accusations seem odd and out of place, given that he considered her worth gathering an army and sailing off to war for.
The piece's treatment of Helen is interesting. Is she, as Menelaus says, a whore? Or a victim? Did she want to go off with Paris or was she just a pawn in an elaborate game set up by the gods before time began? The woman portraying her never speaks, yet we hear “Helen” speak, always through the voice of someone else. Her disembodied voice is evidence of the object that she has been made into, simply because she is beautiful. In the traditional Trojan War myth, Helen ultimately ends up returning home with Menelaus. The Judgment of Paris assigns a new, unfortunate fate to Helen. Suddenly, the erotic, alluring dances performed by Aphrodite's collection of cupids no longer seem so erotic or alluring when the completely victimized Helen is forced to perform them, a look of utter distress upon her face.
The Judgment of Paris is largely uneven. The show tackles too much at once in combining dance, theater, and a very large story into a scant 90 minutes. The result is a watered-downed attempt at greatness, evidence of a group of talented performers and a show that needs focus.