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Parsons: An Evening of Classics, Some of Which I Love, Some of Which I Still Have Issues With

January 8, 2009

Tuesday evening I went to the opening night of Parsons Dance at the Joyce Chelsea. The season opened with Program B, all classics by founder David Parsons; later in the week the company will premiere Program A, a new rock opera.

I like this modern / contemporary company and always find them to be a lot of fun. They’re smallish but have a diverse repertoire (some dances are more lyrical and set to more classical music, others more jazzy and disco-y, set to light rock or soul music, some focused more on lighting effects), and a kind of cult following.

Actually, my favorite dance of the night was a short duet called Ebben, which is going to be part of the larger work premiering later in the week. It was just oozing with sexiness and passion, and I can’t wait to see the whole! Abby Silva, probably the most stand-out dancer in the troupe stood on high releve and kind of tip toed around Kevin Ferguson, standing with his back toward the audience, as if she was just kind of discovering him, then searching, maybe trying to understand him, to breathe in his essence.

Then she started reaching toward him furiously, trying to grasp him, but her arms never really connected with him; they always went around him. You could really sense her frustration and her desire. And I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but she seemed to be kind of looking all around him, but not directly at him, like something prevented her from connecting with him. Then he turned around and faced us, statuesquely. He bent and she stood over him, on one leg with an arm extended, angelically, as if blessing him. They she bent and he did the same to her. It was really so beautiful. I’ll be excited to see it in context later in the week.

Also on the program was Swing Shift, a jazzy piece I really liked consisting mainly of couples lightly gliding through the air but framed rather forebodingly by Abby Silva’s slow, haunting solos in which she’d cover her mouth as if gasping, bend as if reeling from pain, reach out as if in desperate search of something. But then she is whisked off happily by one of the “swingers” at the end. I liked the contrast of moods, the surface frivolity masking something darker and deeper.

We also saw the enjoyably lyrical My Sweet Lord set to George Harrison, and Fill The Woods With Light, which played with the effects of light by spotlighting dancers from various angles, and then the two pieces ending the program — probably Mr. Parsons’ most signature dances — Caught and Shining Star — the two I can’t help but like the least.

Caught: Everyone loves it. People were talking about it all night — before, during, and after the show. So it is definitely a crowd favorite. And it is really spectacular and creative; maybe it’s just that after you see it a few times, you can start to think it’s gimmicky. I wrote about it here and then got into a lot of trouble by Parsons fans for thinking there was a trick. I still can’t help but think there is some trick to it. Especially at the end with the straight up and down jumps. I just don’t believe the dancer is doing them without some support. I wish everyone could see this dance so that everyone could chime in and not just the Parsons fans (and I’m sure I’m going bombarded with emails again for this), but of course it’s only showing in NY. Maybe this could also be live-streamed someday?…

And then there’s Shining Star, which I also wrote about earlier. This is set to Earth Wind & Fire so it’s a soulful, jazzy dance, and it’s a lot of fun and it makes you feel like dancing your way out of the theater. My problem is that I’ve seen  Alvin Ailey do it (and I swore earlier I thought it was totally different choreography that they did, but the fans said no, it was the exact same piece), and I looked it up in the Alvin Ailey rep and at least it’s listed as the same piece. So, unless the Alvin Ailey dancers added a little something extra here and there — if it really is the exact same dance, then it’s really amazing how the same movement can look so incredibly different on different bodies. It seemed like Kevin was the only one who was doing it “right” :) And Parsons season would have to come right after Alvin Ailey season ends, so Alvin Ailey is just on my mind.

Anyway, their season shows at the Joyce through January 18th. Click on that Joyce link to see a video excerpt from Shining Star. And check out their website (it’s pretty good, they have a good photo gallery and lots of company info).

Here are the comments:

1) Philip from Oberon’s Grove wrote:
“I’ve seen CAUGHT many times in four different venues. There is no trick. It’s all a matter of timing.”

2) Nichelle from Dance Advantage wrote:
“Caught is on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfVXRn6dNJ0), although it loses a lot because you can’t really see his relationship to the floor, which is important. Plus, the strobe effect is more difficult to watch on film (or via youtube, anyway). I’ve seen the piece twice and I did love it – the first time for myself and the second for the audience reaction (its exciting to see others excited about dance). I THINK one of those times, the work was actually performed by a woman (am I remembering this correctly? someone probably knows if its been done).
I can see how, after repeated viewings, it might seem gimmicky. Audiences are continually floored by it and I guess I can’t blame the company if they milk that or use it to sell tickets. Whether or not it was created for that purpose, I couldn’t say. I don’t recall ever thinking that the jumps were a trick – I don’t think it occurred to me. I’ve never seen the dance from a very close vantage point, though.
Anyway, thanks for the review! I hope the emails stay friendly. I always enjoy your honest thoughts on the performances you attend.”

3) I wrote: “We’ll have to agree to disagree, Philip :) Thanks for the link, Nichelle — I’m so glad it’s on YouTube!”

4) David Harrison wrote:

“For the record, the only “tricks” in Caught are talent, athleticism and LOTS of rehearsal.  All the jumps (more than 100 in six minutes) are the real deal, no “stage magic” involved.”

David Harrison
Executive Director
Parsons Dance

I stand by my opinions and, more importantly, stand by my right freely to express them.

I’ve had a long back and forth with another person (not employed by the company) who has told me he thinks my opinions are not merely opinions but attacks on the company, that I’ve “accused” them of “fakery” and deceit and have “attacked their integrity and ethics” and demeaned the dancer.

I have done no such thing. I never said I went backstage and saw such and such or that someone told me such and such, etc. I never made any factual allegations whatsoever. This is wholly and completely a matter of opinion and I’m disappointed Mr. Harrison didn’t see it that way and felt the need to defend the one piece I was slightly critical of without acknowledging that the bulk of my review was positive and I’d encouraged my readers to go see the performance. Again, I stand by my right to express my opinions. If we bloggers can’t do that, then what is the purpose of doing this? And don’t dance artists want real discussion of their work and not just sweetly syrupy vacuous things written about them?

9 Comments

  1. Art without free comment and critique is art that remains unexamined and, ultimately, art that stagnates. And when critique is stifled by delicate ego, it is art that suffers. You know this, but more importantly, the people trying to bully you know this.

    Keep writing and keep expressing your opinions, which do not even approach “attack”. Creative people who are interested in growing will continue to appreciate your efforts.

  2. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Robert, as always, you rock! I'll always remember these words.

  3. Tonya, unless you can specifically prove that the dance is a trick, then you can say whatever you want as it is your opinion. Yes it's a possibility they could take you to court for slander but since you state that it is a review and opinion piece, it probably wouldn't hold up in court.

    I just can't believe that people sometimes. I mean Its your opinion and you shouldn't change it. If you don't like it, post it. As my dad put it last night (when he and I were discussing it):
    Dad: “She can say “that they danced like bunny rabbits (he actually used a different word here but I've changed it ;))” and that's fine, even if they did try and sue her, it probably wouldn't hold because that's her opinion. Now if she said “they are bunny rabbits” It's a completely different story.

    Anyway keep posting your opinion! :)

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Katrina, you crack me up :) I'm dying to know what word your dad used :) I love that you guys were discussing this, haha! Can you seriously imagine, though, if everyone could get sued for their opinion…

  5. Eva Yaa Asantewaa

    Interesting that this has become such an issue. Seems over-reactive. I never thought the way the dance worked was anything but a matter of strobe and timing, but if you thought there might be something else going on, what could be the harm in saying so? If you're wrong, others can write in and calmly correct the record, no?

  6. I think the above comments already say everything I would have added. I'm not sure how anyone reading your original post could have felt you were attacking or slandering the company (or even presenting your thoughts as fact). Even if someone wholeheartedly disagreed with your opinion and wanted to dispute what you thought to be true or possible, all they need do is calmly offer evidence (or support of their own opinion) to the contrary. I'm glad to know that the person bullying you was not a company representative and I'm glad that you've re-posted what you had every right to have on your blog in the first place!

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, you guys. I truly didn't think it was a big deal either. Hopefully it's all over now and won't happen again.

  8. I think the above comments already say everything I would have added. I'm not sure how anyone reading your original post could have felt you were attacking or slandering the company (or even presenting your thoughts as fact). Even if someone wholeheartedly disagreed with your opinion and wanted to dispute what you thought to be true or possible, all they need do is calmly offer evidence (or support of their own opinion) to the contrary. I'm glad to know that the person bullying you was not a company representative and I'm glad that you've re-posted what you had every right to have on your blog in the first place!

  9. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks for your thoughts, you guys. I truly didn't think it was a big deal either. Hopefully it's all over now and won't happen again.

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