Parsons Dance’s jazzy return to Philly
The Dance Celebration series at the Annenberg Center is presenting one of the most diverse and stellar line-ups of companies for their 2014-15 season. The dance series has been struggling to maintain funding in its commitment to present all styles of dance from around the world. They kicked off with Britain’s BalletBoyz, Israel’s Kibbutz Contemporary Dance, Spain’s Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca, all attracting enthusiastic audiences, but still not enough to fill Annenberg’s spacious Zellerbach Theater.
The first week in December, the popular New York based troupe Parsons’ Dance returns with a mixed program of old and new repertoire.. Choreographer David Parsons is not only known for his athletic, sensual and diverse choreographies, but showing vastly different content each time out. His current tour is highlighted by his newest piece Whirlaway and dance-works by out choreographer Trey McIntyre and former Parsons dancer-choreographer Natalie Lomonte.
Whirlaway is scored to a song-cycle by jazz composer Allen Toussaint’s and had its premiere in New Orleans last spring in a sold out performance in a 2500 seat theater. “Everybody’s jaw dropped that we sold out,” Parsons said in a phone interview last week from the company’s studios in New York.
“Allen Toussaint is one of the most legendary singer-composers in the US. He played ‘Whirlaway’ live onstage behind us with a 12-piece band,” Parsons said. The choreographer collaborated directly with Toussaint “we sat around the studio and came up with the tracks for it and he was so great to work with. This is a fantastic piece closer for this Philly program. The music is more jazz-funk and it brings audiences together at the end. You feel like you are in New Orleans celebrating dance and beautiful bodies and music.
As he has done with other song suites, notably ’In the End’ scored to tracks from the Dave Matthews Band, Parsons often choreographs to popular music, usually with a cohesive narrative line. “There is always a thread that I like to communicate. I hate when people sit in a dance concert and have a question mark as to what it’s about. I like to bring something that has to do with their lives. “
Jazz scoring to contemporary dance is a rarity, but it is a standard method that Parsons is always experimenting with. His 2001 piece ’Kind of Blue’ set to Miles Davis’ ’So What’ (also on the Philly program) he describes as “improv based, there are segments where the dancers can go off, I don’t care. You know I like to have fun and I like them to have fun,” he assures. the dancers don’t have to stick to every choreographed move,” Parsons explains. “when we have time off on tour for instance, I get bored. So I would do these jazz improvs.”
Also in Philly, in sharp contrast, the troupe will dance Parsons’ ‘Bachiana’ (1993) scored to J.S.Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 1, as you would expect is ” very balletic, Air on a G String section is the anchoring duet,“ Parsons describes, “it was first done on a French company and we‘ve danced it all over the world. . Now many other companies have danced it too.”
In addition to choreographing an average of two new pieces a year, David Parsons nurtures other dancer-choreographers with his creative support through Generation NOW Commission. On the current tour, he will be presenting former Parsons dancer-choreographer Natalie Lomonte’s preview of work in development. Lomonte teaches dance at Fordham University and also performs, most recently she dance captain and in the cast of “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.” Parsons said that he likes to “stay inside the family as much as we can. New choreographers need a place to show their work. Natalie knows the company and understands the physicality of our dancers.”
At every performance in Philly audiences have come to expect a performance of Parsons most dazzling signature piece ‘Caught‘ a solo work he created in 1982 that never looses its mystique or theatrical punch. Scored to trippy electronica music by Robert Fripp it is a tour de dance force that has been performed by both male and female members of the company. One of its amazing elements is the dancer’s breathtaking synchronization with a strobe light that gives the illusion of the dancer suspended in mid-air.
After Philly, the troupe is performing in Utah, then at the Joyce Theater in New York (Jan.21-Feb.1) before they embark on a six-week European tour.