Kerry Clawson, The Akron Beacon Journal | October 07, 2019
Famed choreographer David Parsons calls his dancers superdancers, which is what he trains them to be. That high athleticism is what audiences should expect to see Saturday when Parsons Dance kicks off the DanceCleveland season in Akron.
His company’s extreme physicality couldn’t be more evident than in “Caught,” Parsons’ signature 1982 work that put him on the dance map and has wowed the world with more than 2,500 performances since.
In “Caught,” Parsons discovered how to make a solo dancer look like he or she is flying as a strobe light captures the performer in the air. To achieve the effect, the dancer jumps 100 times in five minutes.
Parsons, who originally set the dance on himself, says it’s so hard, it takes his dancers a year to learn it.
“The stamina level is so high,″ Parsons said by phone from the Los Angeles area Monday. “These guys are Olympic athletes.”
The audience favorite will be performed next weekend at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall in a program that features four works by Parsons and one that the company commissioned from Trey McIntyre. In Akron, Parsons soloist Zoey Anderson will perform the superhuman “Caught.”
As an athletic young man growing up in Kansas City, Parsons had an interesting specialty: the trampoline. He also worked as a stunt model early in his New York career, and said working with a bevy of photographers helped him realize how he could capture a dancer’s flight in “Caught.”
“I got a lot of shit for ‘Caught’ because people thought it was a gimmick. I didn’t care; it’s incredibly entertaining,″ the refreshingly blunt Parsons said of the dance’s initial reception.”[Mikhail] Baryshnikov tried it and he said ‘I love it but I can’t do it because of my knees.’ ”
The dance is physically brutal, Parsons said, but the audience responds in a big way to its magical illusion and his dancers love doing it.
“Everybody has dreamt of flying. So what happens as an artist, I want to connect with my audience,″ he said. “The audience is my thing. That’s where I get off, making people feel.”
Parsons moved to New York at age 17 on scholarship at the Alvin Ailey School, and next danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1978 to 1987, during which time he created “Caught.”
“I have a lot of energy and at that age I just loved touring and making stuff,″ said Parsons, 59, who also choreographed for the Taylor company at the time.
Parsons met best friend Howell Binkley at Paul Taylor Dance Company, too, where the latter, now a Tony Award-winning lighting designer, was studying under lighting designer Jennifer Tipton. They co-founded Parsons Dance in 1985, with the goal of training dancers to develop the athletic prowess and technical skill that would engage audiences with the joy of it all.
“We are still making works to this day. He was in the studio with me last week,″ Parsons said of Binkley, who has won Tonys for “Hamilton” and “Jersey Boys.”
Parsons’ zest for learning and connecting is something he stresses with his dancers.
“Living a creative life is one of the paybacks you get because you’re not paid that much” in the arts, he said. “We call it ‘living large’ in Parsons Dance.”
Parsons Dance has toured 445 cities in 30 countries on five continents, where they have met a vast array of people. Two of his dancers speak Italian, two speak Spanish and one is from Australia.
“Immediately, when you join this company, you get a feeling of the world,″ Parsons said.
He stresses that his dancers aren’t just concert dancers: In May, they were commissioned to perform a new dance, “The Rare Walk,” for a commercial for luxury Italian shoe company Loro Piana, wearing its Open Walk shoes. Parsons Dance performed Parsons’ lively dance at the opening of Loro Piana’s new pop-up store in the Meatpacking District and for a single night in its regular Joyce Theater season.
Parsons, who enjoys doing a variety of projects with other artists, has created dances for everyone from Batsheva Dance Company of Israel to the Paris Opera Ballet. He directed and choreographed the 24-hour festivities in Times Square for the 2000 Millennium and in his latest project, he choreographed the new musical “A Knight’s Tale” with director John Caird in Japan.
“I can take a break every once in a while and recharge and work with other people because that’s important,″ he said.
This renaissance man, who’s also a photographer and drummer, will be in Akron Wednesday for a company lunch discussion with UA dance students. He plans to teach two high school master classes in conjunction with his company’s weeklong residency at the University of Akron before Saturday’s performance.
Parsons said he integrates drumming into his high school dance classes, which will include dancers from Firestone High School, Jackson High and Hathaway Brown.
“I’m a percussionist, so I go in there and really like to get them going,″ said Parsons, who also talks to students about his love of history and travel. “They see someone who choreographs but they also see a musician. They start to see that being in the arts is a lot deeper than they thought. There’s more levels to it.”
After more than 40 years in the dance field, Parsons still loves teaching: “It gives me an energy, it makes you humble and it makes you realize where you came from.”
On Monday, his company’s eight dancers will take over all of UA’s dance classes, teaching 17 throughout the week as well as a pre-professional class for Dance Institute students.
The company last ran a weeklong residency at UA in 2006, when the university opened its new, state-of-the-art dance center at Guzzetta hall in a momentous week that culminated with Parsons Dance performing to standing ovations at E.J. Thomas Hall.
“We’re gonna rock this out because we’re excited to get this opportunity to do it again,″ Parsons said of his company’s educational residency in Akron.
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