Livermore’s Bankhead to host N.Y.-based modern dance company
By Lou Fancher
After 32 years, David Parsons’ energy cannot be quashed.
Buoyed by more than three decades of relative stability in the highly volatile contemporary dance scene, the New York City-based choreographer, artistic director and cofounder of Parsons Dance Company has risk-taking running through his veins. The nine-member group will land for a one-night performance Oct. 7 at the Bankhead Theater.
“Have there been times when I felt like throwing in the towel?” he says. “Sure, last week.”
What’s not obvious is that Parsons is only half-joking. If becoming a professional dancer isn’t a revolutionary act that defies easy living and financial reward, assuming the responsibilities of maintaining a dance company is positively daredevil.
Parsons was a leading dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and guest artist with New York City Ballet, the Berlin Opera, MOMIX, the White Oak Dance Project and others. Parsons Dance launched in 1985 and more than 60 works stock the company’s repertoire. Major national and international dance companies boast his original and repertory choreography, and collaborations and commissions bring his work to television, Broadway and theater audiences.
“We make stuff happen,” Parsons said. “I love having a company because it’s just so damn hard.”
The rewards for Parsons are working hands-on with a tight ensemble, offering the dancers stability with salaries and full dental and medical benefits and producing the work of young choreographers such as Battle and Katarzyna Skarpetowska, whose duet, “Almah,” is on the Livermore program.
“The negative side is funding,” he says.
But even there, a recent shot in the arm has arrived with a challenge grant gifted to the company by the late Alexander J. Dubé, founder of Career Transition for Dancers.
“By raising $1 million by June 2017, we will receive a $500,000 match. We are just now launching our ask campaign,” says General Manager Rebecca Josue.
Parsons said he is enthusiastic about the possible reprieve from “racking our brains to find money,” but realistic about relying too heavily on one-of-a-kind generosity. Instead, he says the company’s most vital support comes from the audience.
Parsons’ work is largely abstract, energetic, with physicality that’s buoyant one moment, weighted or sharply witty the next. Underneath the exuberant exterior, a sophisticated subtext prevails.
A simple white envelope — brilliantly lit by co-founder and lighting designer Howell Binkley, whose work on the Broadway smash hit, “Hamilton,” recently won him a Tony — is used to great effect in “The Envelope,” a signature work about the loss of individuality in bureaucratic structures.
Rolls of toilet paper that cascade and overwhelm the dancers in another piece symbolize overpopulation. “I don’t like to have people sit in an audience and have a huge question mark in front of their faces,” Parsons said. “I like to communicate with something that’s in their lives.”
Most recently, robots and drones have captured his attention. A dance developed in collaboration with Philadelphia dance troupe NextMove Dance at Drexel University this summer will premiere in December.
“It came from watching the movements of robots that build cars and do other manufacturing jobs,” says Parsons. “Our world is rapidly changing: robotics are going to impact everyone. I’m fascinated by the evolution of man and machines.”
The works presented at the Bankhead won’t include computer-driven quadcopter drones made from scratch, but the company’s “low-tech” dances will buzz with musical and physical variety. They range from “Finding Center’s” rebounding, psychedelic swirl to Skarpetowska’s contemplative immigrant’s journey through different cultures to “Swing Shift’s” impressive partnering to the stark, birdlike movements captured by Binkley’s impeccable lighting in “Caught” to the spontaneity of “Kind of Blue” and “the scent of Brazil” wafting from the ensemble work, “Nascimento.”
“We’re not a one-hit wonder,’’ Parsons said. “We speak a universal language. It’s called movement.”