A staunch modern dance aficionado might say that Parsons Dance was light fare, but they would also have to say that it was gourmet quality. Closing the Duncan Theatre’s 2018 dance series with winning style, Parsons Dance left the loyal modern dance audience more than satiated – they were swooning.
Parsons Dance has been around a long time, performing around the world, and it is obvious that Artistic Director David Parsons knows not only how to create works that satisfy his audiences but also to attract talented dancers who love to perform his choreography. Founded in 1985 by Parsons and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley, the New York-based company prides itself in being universal by presenting an easy take on dance that is both entertaining and accessible to audiences wherever they are in the world.
The exhilarating performance March 16 had the audience buzzing before the first piece was even over. It was immediately clear that these dancers – Elena D’Amario, Geena Pacareu, Eoghan Dillon, Zoey Anderson, Justus Whitfield, Deidre Rogan, Shawn Lesniak and Henry Steele – were going to put on a spectacular show.
To perform the six Parsons pieces on the program, an enormous range of movement styles was required and the dancers proved themselves to be versatile, easily moving from the fluid movement vocabulary performed to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the splendid partnering in a duet set to a score by Thomas Newman. They were just as comfortable showing off their hip-hop moves to music by Marty Beller or their cool jazz moves as they danced to the blues of Miles Davis.
The marvelous technique of the dancers was only overshadowed by their stamina as they danced in almost every dance work presented Friday night. Executing Parsons’s non-stop choreography with the upmost clarity and articulation, they were a force with which to be reckoned, serving up one enjoyable work after another with an abundance of energy and wonderful dancing.
When the evening began with Wolfgang, a work that Parsons created in 2005 for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, my first impression was that I was seeing a Paul Taylor work. Parsons danced in Taylor’s company for almost a decade so it would be understandable if he had been influenced by Taylor or was paying homage to him. Naming the work after the Mozart, Parsons created a very musical and well-crafted dance which utilized the six dancers – three women and three men – as if there were the visualization of the composer’s musical notes scattered across the stage. The dancers entered and exited often collecting in small groups and duets as they filled the stage with movements that captured the music’s vitality.
Just as I was getting a little disappointed with Wolfgang’s similarity to Taylor’s style of craftsmanship, Parsons’s choreography broke away and started to have its own look. The strong theatrical lighting of co-founder Binkley framed the work in a distinctly different environment. Binkley’s strong choices in isolating and sculpting the dancers’ space enabled us to continue to digest all the rapid steps that filled Parsons’s choreography by honing our focus on individuals at various times as they continuously moved through the piece at incredible speed. Binkley’s striking lighting designs continued to play this important role throughout the evening.
In “The Duet,” an excerpt from Finding Center, Zoey Anderson and Justus Whitfield were exquisitely paired. In this simple and elegant duet, Whitfield seamlessly manipulated Anderson – folding and unfolding her in mostly reclining female forms – never letting her touch the ground. But in no way was executing this duet simple. It required brute power but Whitfield camouflaged this so well that only the beauty of Anderson and her elegant poses was seen. It was mesmerizing. The only fault was that it was so brief.
Later on, Anderson returned to perform Caught, Parsons’s most well-known work. This inventive solo choreographed in 1982 always resonates with audiences. It is an impressive tour de force that Parsons created for himself to dance. Anderson, dressed in white pants and a midriff top, started standing in a solid stance in a down spotlight.
Disappearing and appearing in downward spots that “moved” to specific locations, she showed off virtuosic moves until a strobe light started to pulse. Then with precision, she timed her jumps, creating one surreal illusion after another. First it looked like a series of photos, leaps arrested at their height like freeze frames that magically traveled in a huge circle. At one point, she looked like she was just floating across the stage in a walking position several feet above the ground.
There were three other group pieces presented in the full program. All of them were choreographed by Parsons and each was wonderful in its own easy-going way. In UpEnd (2017), his most recent work on the program, he collaborated with Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie. Asherie, who is trained in ballet and modern dance, choreographs in street dance forms of b-girling (breaking), hip-hop and house.
The music for the co-choreographed work featured American musician and songwriter Marty Beller. The percussive score set the tone for the work as four women entered dressed in pants, multi-colored tops and sneakers and started to show their moves. They were joined by four men in matching costumes and pretty soon, it looked like a dance party that would have been great fun to have been invited.
Kind of Blue was a commissioned work that Parsons created in 2001. Using the music of the legendary Miles Davis, it was choreographed as a tribute for the 75th anniversary of the birth of one of jazz’s greatest artists. There was a little of flirty this and little of sexy that as two couples demonstrated easy jazz moves and footwork in this light but pleasing fare.
The last dance on the program was Whirlaway, which had seven dancers whirling away to music by the New Orleans great Allen Toussaint. The laid-back, easy mood of the work choreographed in 2014 was a good finale for the evening. The men were dressed in pants with suspenders and the women were in swinging sundresses as danced together breaking into solos and duets as we enjoyed a collection of upbeat tunes that included “Southern Nights,” “Brickyard Blues” and “Yes We Can-Can.” It was light and fun and, once again, one wished to have been invited to the dance party taking place onstage, now flavored with a New Orleans flair.