Entertainment :: Theatre

Parsons Dance Presents Two New Works

by Jonathan Leaf
Contributor
Friday Jan 18, 2013
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Parsons dancer Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s ’Black Flowers’
Parsons dancer Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s ’Black Flowers’  (Source:Jill Orschel)

Parsons Dance Company offers performances for the unpretentious dance fan. If you think that Martha Graham was always ecstatically great and never bizarre or neurotic, Parsons isn’t for you.

A former member of Paul Taylor’s troupe, David Parsons founded his company in 1985, and he’s been gradually building up a repertory of popular, accessible and enjoyable dances that show his mentor’s influence. Yet Parsons’ own work has less of Taylor’s impulses towards camp, and it displays a welcome economy and simplicity to go along with its updated classical gestures and movements.

Tuesday’s opening night performance at the Joyce Theater -- the first night of a two-week run -- ably highlighted the group’s gradual history and its rise to prominence through the course of a well-received evening that featured five performances danced by the company’s ten-member ensemble.

Of the works presented, three were taken from the company’s repertory of 55 ballets, and two were premieres. Although much favored by the sell-out crowd, the least impressive work of the evening curiously was a section of a piece choreographed by Parsons himself. Entitled "Dawn To Dusk," it depicted a series of scenes first in the Florida Everglades and then on the causeways and nightclubs of Miami.

The evening’s opening number, "Wolfgang," was set to passages from Mozart’s youthful "Symphony No. 25" and two of his piano concerti. Choreographed by Parsons, it’s a jaunty piece, which showed off much of the company as they gracefully partnered one another. A particular star in the 2005 work was company member Christina Illisje, who would come back to good effect in the following work.

This was a world premiere of a romantic dance, entitled "Black Flowers," by former Parsons dancer Katarzyna Skarpetowska set to the piano works of Frederic Chopin.

This was a world premiere of a romantic dance, entitled "Black Flowers," by former Parsons dancer Katarzyna Skarpetowska set to the piano works of Frederic Chopin.

Like all the pieces presented, it was performed to pre-recorded music and elaborate and striking lighting designs. I regret to say that here lighting designer Christopher Chambers may have gone too far in the way of aiming for moodiness as it was sometime hard to identify the dancers, dark as the piece was.

This did not much diminish the beauty of the piece though as its union of trance-like melody and languorous, poetic steps captured the fancy and imagination of the audience.

After the intermission, the company performed two more works. One of these was perhaps its most popular: the strobe-lit "Caught." Brilliantly danced by Eric Bourne, the short piece features a series of dance steps lit in such a way as to make it seem as though the performer is floating, and it mesmerized the audience. This was followed by a triumphant rendition of the company’s "In The End" by a roster of most of the company’s dancers.

The one misstep -- so to speak -- was the Parsons premiere before intermission. It aimed to look arresting and unusual. Presented before a massive scrim of the dancers in part of the Everglades and other parts of Florida in the same poses that they were on stage, it was sometimes distracting, as dazzling as the effect was.

Yet altogether one could not but consider the evening a joyful success, and dance fans would do well to see the company before its current run ends.

Parsons Dance continues through Jan. 27 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street. For info or tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit www.joyce.org

Jonathan Leaf is a playwright and journalist living in New York.

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