Company XIV's dance-theater productions have turned the company's unconventional space by the Gowanus Canal into a lively center for imaginative, exotic, and highly original art. Their newest effort, Judge Me Paris – conceived, directed, and choreographed by company founder Austin McCormick and presented in tandem with Morningside Opera and the musical group SIREN Baroque – continues what has become the Company XIV tradition of graceful fusions of baroque and modern dance, innovative stagecraft, raunchy storytelling, and music both ancient and relatively modern. It also adds an interesting layer of technology, with oddly effective gigantic projections of the cast's faces as they move and sing, suitably conveying both the outsize presence of the gods and the extreme physicality of this particular ancient episode.
In the mythical story of the Judgement of Paris, an indecisive Zeus thrusts a young mortal by that name into the role of adjudicator of heavenly beauty, challenging him to select which of three goddesses – Hera (Roman Juno), Pallas Athena, and Aphrodite (Roman Venus) – as the most lovely. Paris chooses Venus, goddess of love, when she offers him the bribe of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, Helen, as his wife. The ensuing abduction of Helen from Greece triggers the Trojan War, the rest being, as they say, history.
A lowbrow Zeus ("I'm Zeus, goddamn it") narrates, played by a jovially scruffy Jeff Takacs, veteran of past Company XIV productions and a writer who has contributed some of the text. Paris, by contrast, says nothing; a wonderful dancer named Sean Gannon expresses all the youth's wide-eyed wonderments purely with movement, prancing through athletic and sometimes roughly sexual dances with the female attendants of the three goddesses in turn.
Three superb singers, Amber Youell, Brett Umlauf, and Brittany Palmer, sing the roles of the deities with vocal quality and skill of the highest order; Umlauf shows especial versatility as Athena, conveying domineering military command and then delivering pretty, fluttery melodies with exquisite perfection. These operatic parts of the score come from settings of William Congreve's libretto The Judgement of Paris by the baroque English composers John Eccles and John Weldon, and it is delightful music, accompanied by the harpsichord, cello, and two violins of SIREN Baroque.