Flashes of genius: Parsons Dance Company uses light to create images in motion

Choreographer David Parsons, known for his high-energy pop dances, says light is his muse. Gels, spo
PHOTOGRAPHER:

George Balanchine had Suzanne Farrell. Alvin Ailey had Judith Jamison. And David Parsons, he has light.

The choreographer, known for his high-energy pop dances, says light is his muse. Gels, spots, dimmers and strobes shape his creations in a way that not only lends them atmosphere, but impetus.

“I love light because it’s the fastest thing in the universe,” said Parsons.

Consider his modern classic “Caught,” which will be among five works that Parsons Dance Company will perform tonight at The Egg. The stage is dark. A strobe flashes and the audience, for a second, sees a single dancer standing still. Then it’s dark again. The light sparks and a dancer is revealed in a mid-air jump. Dark again. And then comes the burst of illumination and we see the dancer flying in a leap. With each spark of light, the dancer is captured airborne.

The audience never sees the dancer’s feet touch the ground until the curtain call. This illusion of flight makes “Caught” a knockout, a solo that presenters request and audiences crave.

Test of time

“It stands the test of time,” said Parsons from Italy where he is directing and choreographing the musical “Hair.” “There is nothing wrong with that.”

And then there is “Hand Dance,” where light falls only on the fingers of the dancers as they gambol through a series of expressive acrobatics — most of which are funny.

Another frolic with light comes with “Closure,” gaining ground as a company signature work. Here, rays of light frame the swift and shifting voyage of the dancers.

“They nail it with ‘Closure,’ ” said Parsons. “In 18 minutes, it all comes together. You can’t believe the dancers made it to the end. They hit these shapes at high speed. It’s so fast that the lines between body and space are blurred.”

All are crowd-pleasers and have been hailed as spiritually uplifting.

Why then does Parsons feel the need to defend his creations? Because his popularity, like that of Momix and Pilobolus, makes some dance connoisseurs suspicious. “OK, so it’s not artsy fartsy,” said Parsons.

The New York Times dance writer Jennifer Dunning agreed that Parsons is often shrugged off by critics. But not by his audience. Dunning says fans appreciate his dancers “as a company of individualistic performers” and their delivery as it is infused with “slyly sizzling energy.” The incredible Parsons athletes are alluring. Parsons, like his mentor Paul Taylor, accepts only the most skilled technicians in his cadre of artists.

In addition, Parsons’ works are often paired with heart-pumping music. Audiences relate as the musical selections are beloved beyond the insular dance world.

On the Egg bill, the rock tunes of Dave Matthews Band and simmering songs of Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento provide the soundtrack. Both composers offered Parsons his pick of their catalog, a fact Parsons is proud of.

“I have time and time again been approached by some amazing artists,” said Parsons. This is Parsons second work with Nascimento. Titled “Nascimento Novo,” the ensemble piece is a fleet, whirling romp. The Matthews’ piece, “In the End,” is a series of sculptural solos, duets and ensembles vignettes that, as Parsons puts it, “really cooks.”

The pace slows with “Union.” The languid work, set to music by John Corigliano, touches on the primal sensitivity to community.

“It’s one long adagio. The music is beautiful,” said Parsons. “That alone is a selling point.”

Courting public

Parsons does want to persuade the masses to take a look at his dances. Without widespread public support, here and internationally, he would not be able to maintain his creations and their creators. That’s why he unflinchingly accepts work in television as well as in New York City schools.

In addition to dance, he also finances his creative ventures with musicals, like “Hair,” as well as the opera and numerous commissions from American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Once home in the States, he will work with the rock opera ensemble East Village Opera Company. Of course, he and his dancers will return this summer to Chatham’s outdoor venue PS/21, where this company has become part of the arts scene for the past two years.

“We believe in being part of a community,” said Parsons. “But we want to work. We take on everything and appreciate it, too.”

He hopes The Egg audience will appreciate his dancers and dances as well.

“We really connect with the audience. Our movement sensibility is not robotic. We are human and the audience feels it. I think we are something special.”

Parsons Dance Company

WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

WHEN: 8 tonight

HOW MUCH: $26, $22 seniors and $13 children

MORE INFO: 473-1845 or www.theegg.org

Categories: Life and Arts

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