June 22, 2017
Parsons Dance’s Joyce season was supposed to include a premiere entitled Hello World, featuring a technological collaboration. Somehow, the piece did not make it to the stage. The resulting last-minute program changes left an exquisitely danced disjointed flow of events.
Curiously, the choppiness derived from too many similarities. David Parsons enjoys opening a piece with music in the dark, raising the curtain, and shining a spotlight before giving way to uptempo group numbers, as in Parsons’s Swing Shift and Omar Roman de Jesus’ Daniel.
Musical selections were homogenized as well. Hand Dance felt like a gestural epilogue to Swing Shift, both employing high-energy chamber music. While one can always depend on Caught to be performed, the electric Robert Fripp score was instrumental in breaking up the regularity, just shy of the evening’s conclusion.
The pieces themselves tend to fall into two categories: movement-focused, and gimmicky. The former bunch shares a vocabulary of flash. Legs go high, as do jumps and women in men’s arms. De Jesus’s Daniel shifts things with a man on the floor having a jittery episode across from a tapper repeating a timestep, accelerating from a glacial tempo. There is additionally hip-hop infusion thanks to Parsons partnering with Ephrat Asherie on Upend. While Parsons seems to recognize collaboration as key to diversifying his work, it comes at the discomfort of seeing a largely white company hip-hopping, and an incredibly able-bodied company appropriating physicalities associated with autism.
The gimmicky pieces charm, but fail to go beyond immediately established novelty. Hand Dance could go on for an hour with its disembodied floating hands, but not in the existing structure of continuous unison sections that each last about two eights. Once Caught gets caught up in strobe light sequences, it loses form and defaults to self-congratulation.
There are occasional bouts of compositional intrigue. Swing Shift gains momentum when the ensemble trickles in, unison against the opening soloist’s subtly altered spatial orientations. To conclude, all the motifs are restated in rapid succession; all that is missing is development between it and the preceding exposition. Despite little variation, Hand Dance employs keen timing of visual composition, every so often breaking up horizontality for diagonal forms, incredibly and pleasurably disorienting.
Partnering and literal musicality are givens. Lifts are often somewhere between athletic and romantic. Daniel breaks from heteronormativity, save its duet for two males clearly denoting who is the “boy” and the “girl.” Musically, there is no movement without a note. This obsession disallows any dance phraseology for sequences of moves that, in their attempt to keep up with melodies, are executed with a pedantic sharpness as though to say “gotchya!” to every significant musical moment.
Caught begs the question – when we clap mid-piece as the soloist executes exhausting jumps, meticulously timed for the sheer purpose of looking like a flipbook in the strobe light’s flash, are we clapping for the light operator, the performer’s actual action, or the achieved illusion? It is important to break apart work intended to entertain. What is easy to watch is far from easy to craft, most especially when engineering the light-hearted.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews