If you love dance, you have to love David Parsons. The choreographer and artistic director of Parsons Dance is unapologetic when it comes to entertaining. While other choreographers brood over experimenting with anti-dance, sending a message to change the world or simply irritating the audience, Parsons embraces his followers. Like a good host, he has his dancers work feverishly so that the fan almost always go home gratified.
That’s what happened this past weekend at PS/21, the outdoor amphitheater in the hills of northern Columbia County. Surrounded by views of pristine hills, Parsons Dance threw a rapturous party — an embarrassment of riches. No one left disappointed.
Parsons Dance has one advantage that many other companies don’t. They perform and live in the cozy Chatham community every summer. So there is a fond familiarity there. It’s as if the ensemble is dancing for beloved family. (New York City Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center also has this advantage.) The audience knows what to expect. Thus the air is filled with happy anticipation.
The exuberant program of five works began with “Swing Shift” to a string and piano piece by Kenji Bunch. This was the weakest link in the bill, yet it was still strong in its ability to draw in the eye. The dance swayed from joyous to hip to mediative, from lilting to sharp. And while the couplings didn’t always make sense, the connection the dancers made was strong. Most effective were Patty Foster with Eric Bourne in a flirtatious duet along with Abby Silva and Kevin Ferguson.
Silva and Ferguson were again paired in the gripping “Ebben,” an excerpt from the opera “La Wally” that Parsons formed with the East Village Opera Company. A shirtless Ferguson stood still with his buff back to the audience while Silva reached out around him. She tried desperately to grab hold of him, falling and contorting at his feet. When he finally moved, he waved his hand over her, controlling her like Svengali until he too collapsed. It was darkly mesmerizing.
The company also cavorted through “Nascimento Novo” to music by Milton Nascimento and “Shining Star” to disco hits by Earth, Wind and Fire. Parsons has an honest affinity for the Brazilian composer Nascimento. In “Nascimento Novo,” his second piece with the composer, he combined samba and capoiera in a joyous caper.
“Shining Star” was also pure, heart-pounding dance. With dancers all in white (think John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”), Parsons captured the temperament and the carefree party atmosphere of the 1970s.
Trick of lighting
Of course, no Parsons night would be complete without “Caught” — the solo in which a dancer is captured in midflight by a strobe. The company always performs this trick of lighting and it never bores. It was Miguel Quinones’ turn. And he sailed through it with all the finesse of a true Parsons dancer.