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IMPRESSIONS: Parsons Dance at The Joyce Theater

IMPRESSIONS: Parsons Dance at The Joyce Theater
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on May 28, 2024
David Parson's "The Shape of Us." Photo: Paula Lobo

WHO: Parsons Dance
WHERE: The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, New York City
WHEN: May 14 - 25, 2024

David Parsons has been entertaining audiences since he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1978. He became one of its star dancers and the year after his first choreographic ensemble success with The Envelope, in 1984, he founded his own company, Parsons Dance, together with the late Howell Binkley, a lighting designer and close collaborator.

Lighting design remains an important component for this vibrant, nine-member dance company that manages to present a program at The Joyce Theater, this week and next, without any sets or props. To guarantee variety, Parsons commissions other choreographers in addition to presenting his own pieces. Relatively brief works — three before and three after intermission – cater to the supposedly shorter attention spans of today’s audiences. This ingenious program - only hampered by the similarity of the works, all presentational in nature — convinces in many ways, including its high production values. The exceptional dancers deliver knockout performances with an almost always frontal focus and an intensity in which the volume is turned on high without pause.

David Parson's The Shape of Us. Photo: Paula Lobo

Two world premieres and one New York City premiere — all of them choreographed for eight dancers — along with two solos and one repertory work for the whole ensemble, amount to an ambitious and aerobic tour de force.

David Parson's The Shape of Us. Photo: Paula Lobo

 Parsons’ The Shape Of Us might be the most successful of the premieres choreographically as well as in its execution. The dancers look fully at home in his movement material which, after all these years, still reads as an homage to his former boss Paul Taylor, but has a polished, Las Vegas-style panache. Yes, a V-formation does take center stage at one point, and does get inverted. Other old signature tools and habits pop up, like speedy arm crossings for effect, but the dancers obviously enjoy tackling the challenging steps and are quite demonstrative about mastering their assignments with ease. These artists and athletes let nothing get in their way, including combinations that surely would be obstacles for many an accomplished dancer. It’s impressive. Best of all, despite its frontal focus, there is a sense of community through proximity.

Penny Saunders’ Thick as Thieves. Photo: Paula Lobo

In the other world premiere, Juke, by Jamar Roberts, the music by Miles Davis steals the show. Even if the dance does not add to the music, it does not get in the way of it. The group’s extended unison sections facing the audience might inspire adventurous viewers to get up and mirror the dancers. On opening night, nobody dared.

Penny Saunders’ Thick as Thieves. Photo: Paula Lobo

The most memorable feature of Penny SaundersThick as Thieves happens to be long, black coats worn by the performers. Too bad it stays in one’s mind as a gimmick: the coats function as cushions, and, in the tradition of her Momix past, Saunders explores other non-traditional ways of using a coat.

Robert Battle’s Takademe. Photo: Paula Lobo

Robert Battle’s solo Takademe (1996), and Parson’s early signature solo Caught, from 1982, break up the group works. Developed in collaboration with Binkley, Caught uses strobe light to take snapshots of the dancer. Megan Garcia, on opening night, is caught in mid-air and seems to be flying. After many viewings, Caught remains awe-inspiring.

David Parson's Caught. Photo: Paula Lobo

The program closes with 2014’s Whirlaway, another remarkable display of virtuosity. Led by indefatigable Zoey Anderson, the dancers spread joy. I love that Parsons commits to giving audiences a good time. With so much joy gushing at me, I’d like to visit its source, but the constant waterfall’s drowning noise does not allow reflection or a journey upstream.
Anderson and Garcia are joined by Téa Pérez, Luke Romanzi, Joseph Cyranski, Justine Delius, Joanne Hwang, Emerson Earnshaw, and Luke Biddinger. Christopher S. Chambers supplies the lighting design for the premieres.

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