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Victor Lucas   |  August 04, 2015

DANCE REVIEW: Parsons Dance at Cain Park

Sat 7/25

We went to see Parsons Dance perform at Cain Park on Sat 7/25, the National Day of Dance celebration. We missed the onstage show that local dancers - and dancing elephants! - put on but we were in plenty of time for the curtain speech in which Pam Young of DanceCleveland brought out David Parsons himself who spoke warmly to the audience.

"We're so happy to be here on the kick-off of the 60th anniversary season of DanceCleveland," he said.

"Parsons Dance is one of your favorite dance companies on those surveys you fill out," added Young. Indeed, Evans Amphitheater was nearly full.

The first dance on the program was Whirlaway. The music by Allen Toussaint, costumes by Keiko Voltaire and choreography by Parsons gave the piece a definite New Orleans ambience. We'd never realized how good Parsons Dance is at jazz dance. Their walks and struts would shine in a Mardi Gras parade.

After a pause, the concert continued with Hymn, a dance for two men choreographed by Trey McIntyre. Ian Spring and Omar Roman De Jesus, probably two of the best dancers in this company full of exceptional movers, acquitted themselves well to the syncopated score. Like McIntyre's other work, Hymn is balletic but in a quick and witty way that makes surprising use of rhythm.

Cleveland and Akron dance audiences may remember when DanceCleveland and others brought Trey McIntyre Project to E.J. Thomas Hall in 2012. TMP was both like and unlike Parsons Dance. Moment to moment, the dancing in both companies is very, very good. McIntyre's choreography, however, often resonated with another aspect of the performance - the words of a song, a larger meaning. Parsons' compositions - a criticism, unfortunately - often seem like highlight reels, one great moment after another with no larger meaning.

So, if Parsons is going to perform repertoire by other choreographers, McIntyre is an excellent choice, not least because McIntyre has, since 2014, turned his attention to other art forms.

The next dance on the program, Train, evoked for us the hot and gritty feel of a summer street festival in the Bronx of the 1980s, complete with powerful West African-sounding percussion and solo dances that "break out" from the rhythm established by the ensemble. Here's a highlight reel, but because it so successfully captures an ambience, this dance adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Googling later we learned that choreographer Robert Battle, now the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, used to dance for Parsons.

In the next dance, Kind of Blue, Parsons has choreographed a dance for two couples to music from the famous Miles Davis album of the same name. Many at Cain Park apparently enjoyed this dance but for us, the dance and the music didn't go together.

Not everyone in Eisenhower's America listened to Kind of Blue but to many of us who did, it seemed that Davis had tapped a flow to another universe - a beauty and calm that were unexpected, wholly other from everything else in 1959 - and we returned to it again and again, as if to an oasis in a desert. So for persons of a certain age, choreographing to Kind of Blue is not a task to undertake lightly, perhaps not a task that a pop choreographer should undertake at all. The pretty dancing we saw on the stage on Saturday, including the twist during the musical refrains, struck us as a facile response to music which deserves to draw from a deeper choreographic well.

Parson's choreographed Nascimento to the highly danceable music of Brazilian singer/songwriter Milton Nascimento. It's impossible not to like. Just to give you an idea, here's video of a much earlier performance of Nascimento with Parsons himself dancing in the beginning. Whatever criticisms we may have of some of his choreography, he was an awesome dancer. Toward the end of Nascimento, red lighting, faster music, and more percussion brought in a couple of codas, and the concert ended with the audience on their feet cheering. There was a lot to like. Our criticisms are quibbles.

[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]

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