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Glamorous and savvy: the Parsons Dance Company.

I See a Pattern
By Mae G. Banner

The Parsons Dance Company
The 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’ choreography.

Add 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 ensemble sections.

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 to watch.

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.

Riders 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.

Rise 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 couples.

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.


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