KPBS AIRDATE: January 18, 2002
Myths may be thousands of years old, but they still have the power to move us. Choreographer John Malashock has taken three Greek myths and put them into motion as a dance-theater piece, with text by Allan Havis, head of the UCSD playwriting program, and an original score by Lisa Bloom Cohen. You don’t have to dig out your Bullfinch mythology book; familiarity with the original actually gets in the way here, because the stories stray so far from the source. And though they all deal in some way with love, loyalty or hubris, there doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme that unifies the tales or the evening.
Take the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon. The winged horse is transformed into a woman named Peg, with Beller as her rider in their long-standing, high-wire circus act. So far so good. But instead of the pride that pushed Bellerophon to aim too high, Beller rejects the gorgeous horse, who’s gracefully, achingly danced by Nina Malashock, because she’s getting old. He takes up with the young daughter of the ringmaster, and the horse takes revenge. The motivation and message aren’t quite clear.
The title piece, Misjudgment in Paris, is a twist on the world’s most famous beauty pageant, set in a Parisian café; the hapless guy who has to choose the fairest of the fair at Expo 1951 is Monsieur Chocolat, a silly, flatulent baker, hilariously danced by the rubber-limbed James Healey. He is tempted by the three contestants who bribe him with money, threaten him with death or promise him a beautiful bride. In the Greek version, Paris goes for love; he wins the already-married Helen, thus precipitating the Trojan War. Here, the baker also gets the gorgeous girl; his misjudgment, we’re told, “could set off World War III.” But where that comes from or goes is anyone’s guess. In the third section, based on the tragic story of Orpheus and Euridyce, the Underworld to which a new young wife is spirited away is the lair of a gang of Spanish thugs in Granada. And there’s this mystifying hermaphrodite who helps the bereaved husband, who’s really a selfish singer.
These people are less likable, and a lot less mythic, than their Greek counterparts. The evening seems like a work-in-progress, tho’ the variations in setting, dance and musical style are delightful. The intention was to create a seamless melding of dance and text, but just when you get involved in the drama of one, the other intrudes. The duplicate casting (an actor and a dancer for each character) works fine, and all the performers are talented. But somehow these stories, which should be heart-breaking, leave us feeling emotionally disengaged. This effort is filled with inventiveness and potential; some clarifying here, less exposition there, more emphasis on the choreography and trust of the audience, and the piece could be as moving as the dancers and as affecting as the original tales.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc