and savvy: the Parsons Dance Company.
See a Pattern
Mae G. Banner
Parsons Dance Company
Egg, Feb. 5
David Parsons may not be deep, but he is smooth. The Parsons
Dance Company—eight sleek, athletic movers—performed a program
of well-made, well-realized works last Saturday at the Egg
in Albany. All were choreographed by Parsons and several got
a wonderful boost from the onstage presence of a lively musical
trio composed of piano, violin and cello.
Parsons, a former Paul Taylor dancer who founded his own company
with lighting designer Howell Binkley in 1987, always has
been a good packager of eye-catching dances. Binkley does
fun tricks with black light, strobe light, and geometric pools
or squares of light that give shape and texture to Parsons’
to this the savvy costumes—crushed red velvet skirts in Rise
and Fall, Asian-looking tunics and pants of wine and curry
gold in Swing Shift—and the audience feels like guests
at a glamorous affair.
The music commissioned from Kenji Bunch and originally performed
by the Ahn Trio was played Saturday by Cornelius Dufallo,
violin; Yves Dharamraj, cello; and Monica Chuchi, piano. This
trio also performed an interlude, Dies Irae, under
Binkley’s jewel-like light. The musicians were treated like
stars and their performance bloomed with the joy of it.
A gymnast before he became a dancer, Parsons’ earliest dances
were fast, athletic, and sometimes frantic. Now, he seems
to be growing up, absorbing the work of other choreographers,
and developing a sure hand in the composition of moving bodies
in space. His new dances employ coherent vocabularies, witty
links and patterns, and satisfying shifts between duets and
Achieving coherence does not mean Parsons’ work is mechanical.
Unexpected shifts in rhythm or level and clever entrances
and exits please our eyes.
Here’s a paradox. Though the dancers’ swiveling turns and
balletic jetés are quite demanding, Parsons’ dances are restful
He does have a cheeky sense of humor, though. Orange Blossom
Special, to Bunch’s classically inflected old-timey music,
is a dance about a train performed by five pairs of white-gloved
hands, the dancers’ bodies erased through the magic of black
light. A fiddling style inspired by Mark O’Connor (and how
many folk players before him?) makes the wheels turn, while
the hands do a synchronized tour de force of a lonesome ride.
It’s a clever match of moves and music with neat variations.
on the Storm, a high-concept dance to music of the Doors,
had the elastic Mia McSwain pulled back and forth and rotated
by Jeremy Smith and David Martinez, all three confined within
a mysterious pool light at stage right. She never got to stand
on her own feet, yet, she danced beautifully with her arms
and her flexible torso.
and Fall was exactly that. An exercise in athletic partnering
for seven dancers to jazzy fiddle music composed by the Turtle
Island String Quartet featured McSwain as the odd woman out,
doing a twisty solo as she threaded through the slow-moving
Parsons’ signature solo, Caught, is equally thrilling
whether it’s danced by a man or a woman. This time, Brian
McGinnis took off under the strobe light, thrusting out a
lasso-like arm, doing rubbery leaps from one spotlight to
the next, and virtually walking on air in this daredevil chiaroscuro
dance. Audiences love the heroism and we love to be fooled
by the trick of the light.
The new Slow Dance puts three couples in a small square
of light and has the women lean dangerously as the men pull
them close and then into an upside-down lift. The dance has
a yearning, romantic quality, underscored in Bunch’s music
by a repeated phrase from “I Only Have Eyes for You,” vibrantly
played by the onstage trio.
The final Swing Shift began as a courtly pavane, with
the dancers holding hands in a tight circle as they torqued
their bodies in and away from the center; the movements then
morphed into a contemporary ballroom contest for elegantly
jitterbugging couples. Spins, hops and deep plunges kept the
action hot as McSwain kept drawing her resisting partner back
toward the source of the music.
The dance ended when a man yanked the last woman off into
the wings and the pianist tossed her pages into the air, where,
catching the last light, they fluttered to earth.