Variety is Parsons Dance Company’s spice of life
More than 20 years ago, David Parsons, founder of the New York-based and internationally renowned Parsons Dance Company, was in Salt Lake City setting a work for the Repertory Dance Theatre.
"I had a break and went up into the mountains and I will never forget how amazing and beautiful the mountain country is," Parsons said during a telephone interview with The Park Record. "I couldn’t believe it."
Parsons will return to the mountains when his company performs at the Eccles Center for the Performing Art on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m.
This time around, his dancers will perform six works from the company’s repertoire, and Parsons has made sure the works show the diverse dimensions of the artists.
"I think one of the things that has made us world wide is universal appeal, and that appeal is variety," said Parsons, who founded the Parsons Dance Company with Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley in 1987. "Variety is a spice of life and that’s what we’re going to bring to Park City."
The performance will kick off with a work called "Wolfgang," which is danced to the music of Mozart.
"The piece was originally made for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, a contemporary company, so there is a lot of contemporary vocabulary in the movement," Parsons said. "I like it because I also love Mozart music."
Following "Wolfgang" is "Hand Dance," a comedy done to the music of Kenji Brunch that shows Parsons’ and Binkley’s knack for creative stage lighting.
"The lights are cut off on stage so the audience only sees 10 hands," Parsons said. "I can always rely on Howell when it comes to dealing with something tricky."
Parsons is excited for the audience to hear the original score Brunch had arranged for the alternative classical piano group, the Ahn Trio.
"Kenji is a young composer who is a Juilliard graduate and we’ve done a lot of work with him in the past," Parsons said.
Closing the first half of the evening will be "Swing Shift," which is a contemporary study in the myriad of ways you can partner in dance, Parsons said.
"Then there will be an intermission and the audience can go get a cup of coffee or a drink, whatever they want, and when they come back, they will see a piece done to the music of Miles Davis called ‘Kind of Blue,’" Parsons said. "As a choreographer, any time you want to get into a new spark, you tend to move through different composers. Miles is amazing and I have always wanted to do something to his music."
Parsons also drew inspiration from the element of improvisation in jazz.
"I wanted to create a structured piece where the dancers were free to do what they want," he said. "Just like when the musicians lay down the riff and time signature and then do their own thing, the dancers are able to let themselves go.
"It’s free, and it’s fun to see them come up with different stuff every night," Parsons said.
Parson’s trademark work "Caught," which is really a celebrated solo captured by lights, will follow "Swing Shift."
Parsons conceived the piece while working as a stunt model one year. During session shoots, he would do some flying leaps and a photographer would capture him in the air.
"I figured out how to do something like that love on stage," he said. "At the top of a jump on a dark stage when the hair on the dancer starts to rise, a strobe light would fire at 1/10,000 of a second and catch the dancer, giving the audience the illusion that he is floating in the air.
"That connects with people because, everyone has thought about flying. I mean, who hasn’t, right?" Parsons said. "As an artist, I like to connect with the audience and am always looking for things that do that."
"Caught" is performed to the progressive music of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.
"I remember when he contacted me because he heard I was using his music and he wanted his rights paid," Parsons said. "I told him I told him I didn’t have any money, but asked him to come see it."
When Fripp saw the production, he turned to Parsons and said, "I’ll write you a whole new piece."
The last piece the company will perform at the Eccles Center will be "In the End," which Parsons choreographed to honor the Grammy Award-winning Dave Matthews Band.
Parsons was commissioned to create the work by the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, Va., in 2004.
"Dave Matthews went to college in Virginia and they wanted to honor him," Parsons said. "I got to pick the songs and put this beautiful thing together."
"In the End" is based loosely on power.
"I put it together during an election year, and you could kind of feel people jockeying for power at that time," Parsons said. "But then in the end, this community of dancers comes together, which is something we all want to do, right?"
While Parsons enjoys creating works that take his company around the world, he said the main reason he does what he does is for the audience.
"We’re always looking to do things that will touch the human soul and last for years," he said. "We live for the moments when the audience is transfixed, or laughing or gasping, because those are moments money can’t buy."
Parsons Dance Company will perform at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and available by visiting http://ecclescenter.org/upcoming-events/parsons-dance-company-saturday-december-15-2012/ . For more information, visit http://www.parsonsdance.org.
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