Austin on ‘Paris’

for The Brooklyn Paper

In Ovid’s telling of “The Judgment of Paris,” Paris’s dilemma is an embarrassment of riches. Three beautiful goddesses appear before him and he must decide who among them — Athena, Hera and Aphrodite — is the finest.

The three strut and fuss over the Trojan. Eventually, Paris chooses Aphrodite, after she promises him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. The only problem is Helen, of Troy, is already wed to King Menaleaus, who is understandably upset with his wife’s departure and thus starts the Trojan War.

Happily, Austin McCormick’s production — which opened on Friday in Carroll Gardens — doesn’t end with any bloodshed and is almost embarrassingly rich, too.

In McCormick’s staging, the great epic of antiquity unfolds on a rarely traveled portion of Bond Street, one block west from the Gowanus Canal. Inside a plain white warehouse — a former tow-truck garage — McCormick’s dance troupe, Company XIV, strips, sings and dances its way through the tale.

The 24-year-old McCormick, an elfin dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, found the space during the great MTA strike of 2005.

“My broker was biking down Bond Street and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign,” he told GO Brooklyn. Now, black marley flooring takes up three-quarters of the cavernous space. (The 70 audience members are relegated to a strip near the garage door.)

From the moment the visitor enters, he can sense this isn’t a recitation of the myth he’d read in college: scaffolding lines stages right and left; a carousel pony, half a Grecian column and a stage-on-wheels sit far upstage; a chandelier and strings of Christmas lights hang from the ceiling.

And then there are the performers.

Gioia Marchese, as a zaftig Aphrodite, spends much of her time on stage — and all of her time is onstage; there are no hidden wings in this theater — in a tight fitting, golden brassiere. The same can be said for Helen, played athletically by the gifted Samantha Ernst; Cupid, played by the epicene Davon Rainey; and by Aphrodite’s helpers, Yeva Glover and Laura Careless. Even when they’re wearing skirts, they spend an inordinate amount of time hiking them up. Toby Burns, the wonderfully operatic Johnny Depp look-alike who plays Paris, wears a pair of golden tights that leave little to the imagination.

As one might expect for a retelling of a primitive nudie beauty contest, it’s rather risque. According to the program, the play isn’t intended for those under 16 years of age, making it perhaps the first NC-17 contemporary baroque dance ever.

McCormick, who has no children, claimed, “There’s nothing vulgar in it. I’d bring my kid to it.”

He has been dancing since he was eight years old in Santa Barbara, Calif. and hasn’t left the theatre since. In fact, his first role was in a — one would hope — more tame version of “Last Judgment of Paris.”

According to McCormick, “[‘Last Judgment’] has everything: love, tragedy, lust.” His production also, more concretely, has everything. Like baking soda in the fridge, it has absorbed the hundreds of flavors of a life led in theater.

Alongside the classic pantheon one finds opera bouffe, the technological fragmentation and microphone tricks of the Wooster Group, tender pas-de-deux, and the music of Marlene Dietrich and Arvo Part. Burns as Paris seems to switch from “Cabaret” to “Le Belle Helene” to “Willy Wonka.” It’s a little fragmented, more than a little frantic but completely engaging.

The question is, is Carroll Gardens ready for the blood, love, lust and betrayal of McCormick’s “Last Judgment of Paris”?

The choreographer, who lives in Chelsea but “fell in love with Carroll Gardens,” laughs nervously.

“We’ll see,” said McCormick. “We’ll see.”

Company XIV’s “The Judgment of Paris” is performed at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, now through May 31 at 303 Bond Street (Bond Street between Union and Sackett streets in Carroll Gardens). Tickets are $20, $15 for students. No one under 16 admitted. For tickets, call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.

Reader Feedback

Mary Reid from By the Sea says:
Sounds fascinating! Even more fascinating, Johnny Depp actually in the "golden tights that leave little to the imagination." Wish I was in Brooklyn!
May 9, 2008, 8:43 pm

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