The wonderful Parsons Dance in David Parsons "Round My World"
Everybody loves Parsons Dance.
And among its greatest fans are those living in the northern end of Columbia County where for the past 14 summers Artistic Director David Parsons and his finely tuned ensemble of dances have stayed and performed at PS/21 in Chatham.
The audience’s affection, on display Friday night at the theater, is well-placed. This group of dancers is always keenly on – athletic, sharp, expressive and often, playful. This year’s showing was especially astonishing because the Parson’s company is now only eight dancers strong. (I fault and decry politicians who have chipped away at arts funding for so long that it is basically nonexistence.)
While the company’s number might have decreased, its might has not. Actually, it has grown in stamina as the same dancers perform each piece of robust choreography without any hints of exhaustion. This octet is made up of sensations.
The evening featured the usual line-up of endearing Parsons’ pieces – the sublime “Round My World,” the upbeat “Nascimento” and everyone’s favorite, “Caught.” What made the night unusual was Parsons also generously shared his bill with Trey McIntyre who produced a new work for the company to music by Aretha Franklin. Parsons also revived a 1975 work by his mentor Paul Taylor, the mysterious “Runes.”
Put together, it showed that Parsons has decided to enlarge the ensemble’s scope by including compatible choreographers. Personally, it revealed to me that Parsons as a choreographer can stand alongside the best contemporary dancer makers in the world (dead or alive) and come out on top.
Certainly, you can’t judge Taylor and McIntyre on one work. But the comparison underscored Parsons’ abilities, which are sometimes unjustly underrated.
It was interesting to see “Runes” again. Next to Parsons and McIntyre’s work, the piece in which a full moon glides across the sky felt dated. But it’s construction, especially with dances gliding in and out of the center stage imperceptibly demonstrated Taylor’s genius.
McIntyre’s work was a pure celebration of the Queen of Soul. Titled “Eight Women,” the piece elevated six songs such as “Natural Woman”” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” But it felt like it was only a start. I would love to see the piece expanded to go deeper into her songbook.
Parsons’ “Round My World,” to music by Zoe Keating, was a perfect opener to the show, with the dancers cast in blue, and encircling each other and the stage. Zoey Anderson and Shawn Lesniak stood out as they devoured the space in their duet.
The sunny “Nascimento,” to music by Milton Nascimento, closed the show. The flirty and fun dance always bring smiles, leaving the audience skipping home.
No evening of Parson would be complete without “Caught.” Danced by Henry Steele on Friday night, the high-flying solo to strobe lights didn’t disappoint.
This program will be repeated tonight, Saturday, Aug. 24, at PS/21. If you miss it, I would recommend seeing this phenomenal group on Friday, Nov. 8, at The Egg in Albany. I guarantee you will enjoy the show.
"Voyeur" takes the audience on a journey through other's lives and brings Edward Hopper's paintings to life.
Two dancers of a certain age have figured out how to multiply their numbers and their range of motion – technology.
For years, Bridgman Packer Dance, a duo comprised of seasoned artists who happened to be married, have successful explored the known and unknown uses of video, light and set structures. Their ingenious efforts have allowed Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer to create a surreal world where audiences are often unsure where the real dancer ends the virtual one begins.
They did it again on Saturday night at PS/21 in Chatham. They presented two works, their latest “Table Bed Mirror” and a work from 2012 “Voyeur.” While “Table Bed Mirror” felt slightly overdone, “Voyeur” was near perfect.
“Voyeur,” the program note explained, takes inspiration from Edward Hopper’s paintings – likely his “Night Windows” – in which the viewer glimpses – through windows -- a woman in a room, seemingly undressing for bed.
Many of Hopper’s pieces evoked a sense of an outsider looking in – think “Nighthawks.” But Bridgman Packer take that farther with “Voyeur,” in which a screen with a door and two windows becomes the canvas for a series of voyeuristic experiences. Those in the seats become the voyeur, watching through the windows, a woman undressing, casually moving about or sitting on the bed.
Donning various costumes from the Hopper era – including Bridgman in a fedora and Packer in a red dress -- and surrounding the dance within rooms and objects reflecting the 1940s, heightened the sense that one is watching a Hopper painting come alive.
The piece fascinated from the start with Bridgman watching Packer from a distance. When they finally come together, the lights go out, as they should. It was a perfect ending for a captivating piece.
“Table Bed Mirror,” which started off the night, was a fantasy, taking the audience through the absurd journey of a dream. “Table Bed Mirror” has many enchanting moments – dancers’ images dive head first and then disappear into the floor or a stand of virtual doors opening onto a road or a dangling foot.
The soundscape included a variety of music that intermingled with text centered on REM sleep science and unreal or dreamlike images such as a giraffe in the bathtub or Martha Stewart fighting zombies. It was also fun to watch Bridgman’s giant head telling him where to move, again for no apparent reason, as in a dream.
The only problem with the work is the set-up was too long. With a little editing, "Table Bed Mirror" could be a dream.
Gallim in "Boat" at Jacob's Pillow.
This week was not Gallim’s first showing at Jacob’s Pillow, nor was it it’s best.
The high-octane company, led by choreographer Andrea Miller, danced in the august Ted Shawn Theatre for the first time. For the occasion, the Pillow commissioned Miller to create a new work.
That piece was “True, very,” to music by various composers. It incorporated older pieces into the new, longer creation that appeared like a mash-up of random works. Unfortunately, as a whole, it added up to nothing.
It appeared that Miller, perhaps, was taking the viewer through a time – from the Earth’s beginning to its current demise. But after “Pupil Trio and Duet,” which is actually a piece from 2008, the work took a dive. I struggled to stay engaged.
Gallim’s amazing dancers were contorting themselves in ways that were uncomfortable to watch. Aside from showing how we are twisted into an untenable position, these passages were too long. Interestingly, the section entitled “Bruce,” another older work, had the dancers watching this body warp, but don’t act. It’s a stinging metaphor for understanding our lost world, but not changing our behavior.
When The Doors’ song “The End” came on, I was relieved it was so.
The program started off well, however, with “Boat” from 2016. Inspired by the plight of Syrians who fled war, the piece was dark portrait of military conflict and the pain it inflicts on those who endure it.
The curtain opens to a dimly lit, smoky stage with a backdrop that rippled, alluding to wave of a flag or the sea. To music by Avro Part, the dance took the audience through the agonies of war and the flight it provokes.
Most moving was the central duet – two men stumbling through their toxic world, carrying and protecting each other the best they can.
The image of a dancer face down on the floor referencing the image of a refugee child washed ashore was also chilling. So too was the dangerous journey that ensemble of nine took – holding and clinging to each other as some appear to slip away.
I like Gallim and always impressed with Miller’s high-flying, high-energy movement vocabulary that kinetically kicks the imagination. But this Pillow showing was not up to its usual sharp style.
Kyle Abraham in "INDY," a 2018 solo that he is dancing at Jacob's Pillow.
Kyle Abraham is a masterful storyteller.
Consider his solo “INDY,” seen Friday night at Jacob’s Pillow. He takes us through a lifetime, perhaps his, so clearly and concisely that the audience follows the narrative every step of the way.
To commissioned music by Jerome Begin, the dance tells the tale of a young man who runs into trouble with the law. That leads to a transformation, confining at first, as a dancer; and then as a human who fully, freely and joyously expresses himself.
However, dancing much of the piece with a bull’s-eye as a backdrop, one can also feel Abraham’s frustration and sadness as a target. The costume, designed by Karen Young, is also telling. With a fringe at the back of the shirt and slacks, there is a sense of not recognizing one’s potential as well as a thought that the visuals of the flying fringes are darts aimed at his back.
When he reverses his shirt, with the fringe in the front, he becomes aware of his talent, but knows he is now a bigger mark.
The title is fantastic too. It’s about independence, a liberation from what is expected of a young black man from Pittsburgh. Yet it’s told swiftly and in a ways that cautions the viewer that the biographer is on a fast track fraught with obstacles.
And that’s just for starters. With so many levels to “INDY,” it’s worth seeing again and again.
All his works for his company A.I.M. (formerly Abraham.In.Motion) inspire that kind of longing for encores.
In “The Quiet Dance,” set to Bill Evan’s playing of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” Abraham explores the other – the person in the shadow who tries, but can never be, like everyone else. The gorgeous Catherine Ellis Kirk toils away like her counterparts, off to the side without ever becoming part of their team.
She leaves the stage and comes back dressed like them. But that doesn’t matter because they move off stage to return dressed like her former self. For anyone who has every felt like an outsider, despite being first, “The Quiet Dance” is especially moving.
A.I.M’s program is not completely awash in deep emotion. Abraham’s “Drive,” with music from Theo Parrish and Mobb Deep edited by Sam Crawford, electrified. On a smoky stage, with lights that face out to the audience, A.I.M. showed off what it does best – authentically melding hip hop with classical dance.
These dancers are not stretching movement vocabulary – they are the vocabulary. They speak it loudly and soundly, embodying the answer to the question repeated in the soundscape, “where is your drive?” It’s ingrained in the bodies of the Abraham’s dancers.
The evening also featured the sleek Tamisha Guy as a confident, sassy creature in the solo “Show Pony.”
Finally, A.I.M. also showcased a work by Andrea Miller. “state” took the audience on an otherworldly journey – where three appear like aphids or robots on a mindless march across a barren landscape. While dark and creepy, it kept all eyes focused on the stage.
A.I.M. will end its run at the Pillow on Sunday afternoon. I highly recommend it.