Parsons Dance (Program A)

Choreographed by David Parsons

Sarah Braverman and Miguel Quinones in David Parsons' Portinari. Photo by Paula Lobo.

BOTTOM LINE: The Joyce hosts Parsons Dance in three separate nightly programs featuring retrospectives of David Parsons' works culminating in world premiere performances.

Parson’s Dance, a contemporary movement company in its third decade, is premiering three new works by David Parsons incorporated with previously seen dances by the choreographer. The company is running three programs in repertoire (Programs A, B, and C). Each features two world premieres and four classic Parsons works. I saw Program A, which consists of The Envelope, Sleep Study, Mood Swing, Portinari (world premiere), Caught, and Run to You (world premiere).

Overall, the program gives audiences a lovely and diverse night of intricate movement, however there are distinct variations in strength from piece to piece which left me disappointed. Some of this can be traced to the dancers themselves, all of whom have impeccable proficiency in movement, but occasionally lack some performance capacity. The weakness of the dancers to emote is most apparent in dramatic episodes. Also, when all of the dancers are staged in large groups, there is a glaring lack of presence from some of the core movers.

Still, these cracks in the plaster do not color the entire night.

The evening started with The Envelope, a tongue-in-cheek work that pushed the border between dance and physical clowning. In this piece, contemporary movement is combined with classical music to allow audiences an added avenue to relate to the piece. The playful exploration of the shaping of bodies and the use of props succeeds, and The Envelope intrigues with its intricate attention to detail.

Following that is Sleep Study, a fascinating physicalization of somnolent motions with rich movements and a rolling bed created from bodies. There are some odd transitions on and off of the floor, but as a whole Sleep Study is inventive and unexpected.

Mood Swing rounds out the first half. It’s an amusing, theatrical ensemble dance that’s a little ballet, a little swing, and a little goofy. The whole thing culminates in a crescendo of movement motifs, but in the end Mood Swing lacks dynamic and there is no focus in the staging of large groups. The most moving moment comes with a duet between the charismatic Miguel Quinones and Eric Bourne.

After intermission, the second half begins with the world premier of Portinari, a dramatic duet. Deeply lovely, this piece was unfortunately the nexus of shallow performance from the dancers. Every movement was superb, but lacked emotion. It was both beautiful and empty.

Caught follows as a sure crowd pleaser. Caught is a short, breathtaking work in which a solo dancer performs an epic series of leaps which are timed with flashes of light to give a photographic and then kinetoscopic illusion. The whole piece is a testament to precision, endurance, and technical coordination. Using identical leaps in different parts of the stage, Miguel Quinones appears to float, to walk, and to fly. I laud both he and the stage manager, who performed at the peak of professionalism and ability in synchronizing light with skill moves from second to second. All those light flashes are a hard on the eyes, but the work worth it--wondrous and eliciting deep, vocal appreciation from the audience.

Finishing out the night is the world premiere of Run to You. It’s also the low point of the evening, with a combination of cabana costumes, Steely Dan standards, and banal movement. And once again the use of the entire ensemble on stage at once belied not only the lack of presence in some of the dancers but also sloppy staging which left me unsure where to look. The schmacty performances and schmaltzy design were better suited to a bad Broadway show or a teen movie musical. To me, it ended a perfectly respectable night of dance on the one sour note.

Still, despite these flaws, the overall evening is a success. It’s not evocative or revolutionary, but it is playful and inventive, with wonderful use of bodies and their shapes. The great thing about Parsons in these works is his willingness to take advantage of contemporary dance’s capacity for drawing from other performance forms. His works are at times very theatrical, sometimes clownish, and yet stay grounded in an exploration of movement, shape, and the interaction and combination of bodies. This is contemporary dance for everyone, not just modern movement aficionados, and I recommend it as an affordable and enriching night out.

(Parson’s Dance presents Three World Premieres plays at the Joyce Theatre, 175 Eight Avenue at 19th Street, through February 6, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at at 2PM at 7:30PM. Tickets begin at $10 and are available at or by calling 212.242.0800.)