David Parsons has used classic modern dance to express a wide vision of the world: whimsy (“The Letter”), close-knit communities (“The Road”) and athleticism (“Caught”). It was great to have his Parsons Dance back for a visit to its home base, The Joyce Theater.
It’s refreshing to have an artistic director of a modern dance company encourage new choreographers. Two were represented. “Past Tense” is a work by Matthew Neenan to a lively Baroque work by Pietro Locatelli. The company, dressed in Christine Darch’s chic, raggedly colorful costumes were thrown into a series of short sections in which they filled the stage with quick bends, twirls, lifts and groups that gathered and dissipated. Although impeccably danced, “Past Tense” soon wore out its welcome with its repetitive movements and a unduly long running time that turned an energetic romp into a bit of a bore.
The last criticism also applied to the other guest ballet, “On the Other Side” by Chanel DaSilva to Cristina Spinei’’s sensual score played by Erika Dohi on percussion and Britton Matthews on Marimba. One by one the dancers entered in silence and spent a great deal of time laying down white tape in the form of six large rectangles, each occupied by its maker. As the Latin- tinted score began, a single female dancer, the excellent Deidre Rogan, dressed in a dark outfit in contrast to the others’ light colors, began a search for something unreachable among the six dancers caught up in stretchy movements within the confines of their rectangles. When the others exited, Rogan stood stage center as the lights faded—a perfect ending.
But, no! The lights came back on to an all-male duet which also came to a conclusion…..again, not! Two more unnecessary bits of choreography extended “On the Other Side” arbitrarily. Had the lights—designed by Christopher S. Chambers—not dimmed to black each time, the work would not have had four endings.
Parsons’ first work on the program was the tour de force solo “Balance of Power” performed by the phenomenal Zoey Anderson. Clad in Barbara Erin Delo’s brilliantly colored tight costume—the bright red left sleeve particularly inventive—Anderson first appeared upside down in a golden spotlight. (Lighting by Chambers.) As she turned right side up, she began undulating to Giancarlo De Trizio’s sparkling score, her body reacting to every nuance of the quite rhythmic music. Parsons unloaded hundreds of difficult tiny movements on her which she performed with skill and allure, stopping the show with her quickness and sensuality.
Parsons’ former signature piece, “Caught,” was performed by the athletic Henry Steele. “Caught” features a bare-chested soloist—loose pants by Judy Wirkula—who does soft jumps around the stage, each place he lands is then defined by a spotlight. (Lighting by Howell Binkley.) The lights dim and the soloist then jumps, spins, whirls about the stage catching images of himself in flickering strobe lights that make him appear to be floating across the stage effortlessly. Steele was terrific, engineering his movements with stopwatch accuracy, creating another fervor in the audience.
Another oldie-but-goodie Parsons opus was “The Envelope,” dating from 1984, probably the oldest Parsons work still performed. To an edited combination of Rossini Overtures the ingeniously choreographed six black-clad dancers—costumes by Wirkula—tossed, lost or bit an errant white envelope. They jumped, hit odd statuesque poses (shades of Parsons’ mentor, the late Paul Taylor). It was an elongated joke but worked because of Parsons’ ability to time his physical humor.
“The Road” ended the program. Set by Parsons to a suite of Yusuf/Cat Stevens songs which pretty much define the Hippy-dippy, druggy Seventies. Wearing Darch’s brilliant tie-dyed looking costumes, the company ebbed and flowed across the stage constantly moving in one direction as they formed small groups that morphed into little communities. It all added up to a sweet portrait of a loving community, perhaps a lovely metaphor for these amazing Parsons dancers.
Parsons Dance (November 30 – December 12, 2021)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission