Above: Melissa Ullom, Elena D'Amario and Abby Silva Gavezzoli of Parsons Dance, photo by Nir Arieli. Click on the image to enlarge.
Sunday January 20, 2013 - Parsons Dance are at The Joyce thru January 27th with an especially strong and varied programme. New and sharply contrasted works from David Parsons and Kate Skarpetowska take the stage alongside exciting Parsons works set to Mozart and to music of the Dave Matthews Band. And CAUGHT, the iconic Parsons strobe-lit solo, continues to amaze even after seeing it countless times. The roster of dancers are thrilling to watch: powerful, sexy, and blessed with endless reserves of energy. And they need it: David Parsons' choreography is demanding and there's no way to pace yourself or spin your wheels waiting for the big moment because all the moments are big.
The pleasure of my evening was enhanced by my companion, Roberto Villanueva of BalaSole Dance Company, who is a really fun dance/buddy and who took me to a very cool Vietnamese restaurant after the show.
Opening this musically diverse and strikingly danced Parsons programme was WOLFGANG, a piece David Parsons originally created for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in 2005. I had watched David's Company rehearsing this dancework a couple weeks ago and thought it was one of his most pleasing works; seeing it superbly lit (by Howell Binkley, always a key element in Parsons Dance's world) and costumed (by David Murin) confirmed all my good feelings about WOLFGANG.
Mozart's music of course dances all on its own. A choreographer is wise to choose from the Master's vast catalog but then you really have to have something to say in terms of movement. This David does with perfect success here: WOLFGANG is elegant, spirited and playful. Elements of courtliness and of pursuit decorate the music's more animated passages while a truly imaginative (and stunningly lit) triple pas de deux gives visual context to the adagio. Throughout the ballet, the dancers mysteriously materilaize from and vanish into the darkness at the rear of the stage space. The girls - Melissa Ullom, Christina Ilisije and Elena D'Amario - wear corset-like bodices and flouncy short skirts that have a tutu-like look. The boys - Eric Bourne, Jason Macdonald and Ian Spring - are in white trousers and sleeveless vestlike tops.
One especially impressive aspect of WOLFGANG is David's truly witty way of putting his dancers on the floor and making it mean something both musically and in terms of the dance. By contrast, a series of high lifts in the triple adagio have a spiritual feeling as the couples advance and retreat in three alleyways of light. Along the way, decorative visual elements suddenly pop up unexpectedly, such as Elena's breezy flurry of pirouettes. WOLFGANG is a captivating meshing of music and movement and the audience seemed to take to it with eager delight.
Last season, Kate Skarpetowska (well-known on the Gotham dance scene for her performances with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company) was invited by David Parsons to guest-choreograph for his Company. The result was a uniquely moving work to music by Kenji Bunch entitled STRAY'S LULLABYE. Invited back this season, Kate turned to music from her motherland and produced another work of compelling, almost austere beauty entitled BLACK FLOWERS. In this set of dances the music of Frederic Chopin underscores the Polish rituals of death and mourning. The white-clad men - Eric Bourne, Steve Vaughn and Jason Macdonald - have a ghostly aspect, like spirits hovering between the real world and the realm of the dead. The widowed women (above) - Christna Ilisije, Melissa Ullom and Lauren Garson - wear severe black dresses. Steve Vaughn's solo was an incredible tour de force for this charismatic dancer as he flung himself daringly to the floor and later spun in place in hypnotic pirouettes which drew on an other-worldly source of energy. Eric Bourne and Jason Macdonald have a very physical duet - they seem at once liberated from the bonds of life but unwilling to completely let go. The trio of the three mourning women encapsulated the poignant but refreshingly un-sentimental feeling that ran through this eerily appealing and mystical piece. Ms. Skarpetowka has, in her two creations for Parsons Dance, served notice of her creative individuality and of a fresh voice in the contemporary choreographic world. I look forward very much to her future work.
Images from BLACK FLOWERS taken ny Nir Arieli at a Company photo call:
Jason Macdonald, Eric Bourne
Eric Bourne with Jason Macdonald in BLACK FLOWERS
In a typically Parsons Dance change of pace, we are suddenly whisked to the Florida Everglades and the sight of the iconic Parsons goddess Abby Silva Gavezzoli (above) onstage being pursued (onscreen) by an enormous and very creepy amphibian. For this newest David Parsons work, entitled DAWN TO DUSK, the Company courageously ventured into the Florida swamplands to be filmed in water literally up to their necks. Videography by Blue Land Media and still photos by Clyde Butcher provide a panoramic and visually thrilling view of the watery landscape, endless sky, and exotic creatures of the Everglades while the dancers, both on film and live onstage, immerse themselves in the natural world and dance in a movement vocabulary drawn from the animal kingdom. Dancer Steve Vaughn is particularly charming for his coolly ironic onscreen presence. DAWN TO DUSK finally moves from nature to an urban nightclub setting where music from Tiempo Libre gives the dancers a chance to be their sexy selves...somethng they do so well.
Here are some images by Nir Arieli from a DAWN TO DUSK photo call:
Ian Spring, Abby Silva Gavezzoli
Melissa Ullom, Steve Vaughn
Elena, Eric, Ian, Abby
Abby Silva Gavezzoli
Ian, Elena, Steve and Melissa
Abby Silva Gavezzoli
Following the intermission, an anticipatory flutter swept thru the theater as the opening sounds of CAUGHT came zapping our way. This solo, which I have surely seen more than two dozen times over the years, never fails to impress and delight. Today it was danced by Ian Spring - my first time seing him in the work - and he quickly had the audience gasping as he propelled his body thru the punishing jumps and pin-point timing of the demanding choreography. Boyishly lithe of torso, Ian maintained a dead-serious demeanor in those moments when the dancer is suddenly caught standing still in the spotlight - as if all the stroboscopic leaps and the skywalking was just a dream. Only at the end, as the applause swept over him, did Ian's captivating smile say "I did it!"
Classic rock from the Dave Matthews Band brought the performance to a close with IN THE END. In this 2005 Parsons dancework, the summation of David's ongoing success can be distilled into a simple plan: choose music that people will want to hear, create movement that people will want to see, and let the energy and commitment of the Company carry the day. In his choice of dancers over the years since he started Parsons Dance, David has been particularly savvy, and the current ensemble is one of the finest he has worked with. They simply give and give and give, and they all look so gorgeous doing it. If, in this particular closing piece, a massive shout of 'bravo!' goes to Steve Vaughn for his inspired solo work, all of the dancers onstage at the end basked in our gratitude and praise: Abby, Melissa, Christina, Elena, Lauren, Eric, Steve, Jason and Ian both as individuals and as a collective gave us their all. This kind of danced generosity makes dance-going in Gotham so worthwhile.
All photos for this article by Nir Arieli.