Thursday, January 17, 2013

Parsons Dance

A screen filling the back wall of the stage springs to life with vibrant video footage of the Everglades and other South Florida parks. Voices speak of nature, honoring nature, the importance of nature, the meaning of nature. It feels like a National Geographic documentary. Then a dancer flows on stage, arms beckoning, and seems to entice an on-screen alligator from stage right to stage left. The effect is playful, with a hint of magic. A line of performers snakes (alligates?) across stage, echoing the alligator's vertebrae. The interactions continue. Then one of the dancer appears, startlingly large onscreen, and others as well.  As we see sunsets and waving reeds, egrets, herons, anhingas, woodstorks, ibis, and hawks--and more giant humans--the performers evoke, complement, and imitate nature, all the while playing with size and movement. In one particular case, a performer does a pas de deux with herself in a multimedia duet for one.

Dawn to Dusk
Photo: Eric Bandiero

Commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, David Parsons' new piece Dawn to Dusk is a beautiful and enjoyable ode to nature, but perhaps not a totally successful dance piece. The video often overwhelms the dancers, and the switch to Miami at the end, going from the lovely music of the aptly named Andrew Bird to the timba of Tiempo Libre, along with the switch to quick-cut eye-assaulting video, is painfully jarring. The contrast between nature and nightclub may make some sort of point--or not--but as choreography it doesn't cohere. And yet much of the piece is wonderful to watch.

Parsons' 2005 piece Wolfgang, to music by Mozart (natch), is a complete delight, a totally satisfying piece of Parsons-ania (Parson-age?). His trademark playfulness is perfect for this riff on relationships, and the piece is in turns coy, seductive, and funny. The choreography feels colloquial, as though the dancers are talking to one another--and to us--in the familiar vernacular of romance. Parsons' frequent focus on hands and arms adds to the beauty and the meaning of the piece. It's as though the dancers' bodies tell the story and their arms and hands provide the boldface and italics and punctuation. It's a wonderful effect. The lighting by Howell Binkley frames and focuses the piece perfectly, forming a significant part of the choreography.

The evening's other premiere, Black Flowers, choreographed by Katarzyna Skarpetowska to anguished music by Chopin, provides a sharp emotional contrast to Parsons' work. She utilizes much floor work and a unique, uncomfortable choreographic vocabulary that is evocative, painful, vivid, and, to me at least, not much fun to watch.

The other two pieces are Parsons' ever-exhilarating Caught, a magical tour de force that everyone should see at least once a year and his joyfully exuberant In the End.

The troupe is consistently strong and beautiful to watch, and their stamina makes Olympic athletes look like wimps. They are Eric Bourne, Elena D'Amario, Lauren Garson, Abby Silva Gavezzoli,
Christina Ilisije, Jason MacDonald, Ian Spring, Melissa Ullom, and Steven Vaughn.

(press ticket, row N)

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