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Communicating emotion: Parsons Dance Company.

The Direct Approach

By Lynn Hasselbarth

Parsons Dance Company

The Egg, Albany, Feb. 8


The world of modern dance is broad and inclusive, allowing the mild and obvious alongside the provocative and subtle. David Parsons is able to straddle both extremes with movement that is fierce, deliberate and joyful. During their recent performance at the Egg, Parsons Dance did not overwhelm the audience with complex messaging or too-nuanced gestures. Instead, the company and its choreographer were content with broader, more accessible themes of trust and relationships expressed through physical energy and visual impact.

Having founded the company in 1985 with lighting designer Howell Binkley, David Parsons showcased his dancers with playful lighting cues in two very entertaining pieces. Hands Dance, as the title suggests, placed five company members on a blackened stage with a cluster of 10 hands illuminated by a waist-level beam of light. What initially seemed like an unimpressive mime act proceeded into a hilarious feat of elbow-to-finger coordination. Set to a rapid bluegrass arrangement, wrists flicked about in unison like a heated poker game or a nasty duel of rock-paper-scissors. At one point, all fists were fused together while 50 fingers fanned open like giant eyelashes.

Parsons’ second light-featured piece took a more sober approach, featuring Miguel Quinones as the solo male who controls his reality with a handheld strobe light switch. Titled Caught, the work remains one of Parsons’ most technologically original and visually striking productions. The piece exhibits an impressive series of jumps and leaps across the darkened stage. At the height of each execution, a flash of light captures the suspended body, frozen in a weightless field. The viewer never sees the body return to the ground. While the concept is rather simple, one witnesses with awe the striking potential of an unburdened human form.

Caught originally was danced by Parsons himself in a somewhat slapstick comedy routine; Quinones applied a darker, brooding quality that was intensified by droning techno music. Taking on the persona of a peaceful warrior, Quinones negated gravity with calm discipline. As a humble athlete, he jumped up into a runner’s stride, alternating legs as if taking laps effortlessly on an elevated track. Moments later, a powerless target, Quinones collapsed his chest cavity inward as if absorbing a forceful punch. The impact propelled his body backward through space as if a cannonball had been driven through his concave shape.

In contrast to these two spatially focused pieces were four full-ensemble works that captured the company’s communal essence. The evening opened with Closure, a sleek urban piece set to a score of dramatic organ chords and a quick snare. Black mesh tops were pulled tight across the dancers’ torsos, revealing sensual confidence. Couples took athletic risks, leaping with abandon into each other’s arms while others formed overhead lifts with little anticipation. Closure was indeed felt when the ensemble gathered center stage in a pulsing ring that eventually burst open with exhausted relief.

Beyond this chic, almost pretentious environment was the earthy streetwise celebration of community expressed in Nascimento Novo. Set to the Brazilian percussion of Milton Nascimento, the piece featured several duets and trios that highlighted the dancers’ interpersonal strengths. Eye contact and physical intimacy between the various couples was convincing and flirtatious.

A moment of stillness was felt when the silhouettes of ten dancers with limbs interlocked created the letters L-O-V-E across the dim stage. Just as the image was acknowledged with applause, the assembled bodies melted out of formation. What followed was a poignant duet between Miguel Quinones and Julie Blume, embracing desperately and concluding the piece in an erotic, yet innocent, entanglement, fading to the sound of a distant church bell in the background.

The concert closed with a fun-loving marathon of a piece set to a selection of Dave Matthews songs. A sentimental journey of friendship and a life well-lived, the piece reinforced the physical rigor and dynamic expressions of the dancers. During an excerpt of “When the World Ends,” three solos depicted the energy of a storm cloud descending on a fearful community. Thrashing about recklessly with fiery eyes and clenched fists, each dancer seemed in full control of his or her destiny.

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