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Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2010

Illinois-born David Parsons performed with the Paul Taylor Dance Company between 1978 and 1987. His interest in choreographing dances for himself and others grew during that period, and it was inevitable that at some point he would break away and form his own company, which also is known simply as “Parsons Dance.” Even so, when he left Paul Taylor, not everyone wished him well, a situation he alludes to in his piece Scrutiny, which is included on this DVD.

Parsons Dance is alive and well, and Parsons has been involved in other projects too. (For example, in 2007 he choreographed a production of Aida for the Arena di Verona.) This DVD preserves material from the relatively early days of Parsons Dance, though the copyright date is 1992. Nevertheless, several of these works are in the group’s current repertoire, although obviously with different dancers.

There are some classics here, and some pieces that have not aged well. Fine Dining, set to a dated techno-minimalist score by David Linton, depicts the superficiality of a group of smart urban 20-somethings enjoying a night on the town. A dance piece about superficiality ends up being, well, superficial. The solo work Caught is regarded as one of Parsons’s signature works, but Robert Fripp’s “Frippertronics” (Let the Power Fall) is stuck in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the piece is worth watching for its striking use of stroboscopic lighting, and for the way in which it explores how an individual is “caught,” for better or worse, during the process of photography. Reflections of Four has much better music than either of these—the third movement from Mozart’s Gran Partita—but gets bogged down (almost literally) in the music-less first part, with four female dancers taking turns splashing about in a shallow pool. The aforementioned Scrutiny, with an electronic score by Michael Raye, is more interesting, but it is nearly 20 minutes long, which is about 10 minutes too much for the material.

The rest of the works are more engaging. Brothers, set to Stravinsky’s Concertino for 12 Instruments, is a duet for Parsons and co-choreographer/dancer Daniel Ezralow. Stravinsky’s perky, mordant score inspires the dancers to work through the implications of a fraternal relationship, from competition and even hate to solidarity and familial love. It is typical of Parsons’s athletic and rather uncomplicated (emotionally speaking) style that two buff men dressed in little more than boxer briefs can have extensive body contact with each other for more than six minutes without raising the question of sexuality. The Envelope, set to various snippets of Rossini, is a hilarious ensemble farce in which said envelope takes on a life of its own. All of the dancers display their comic aptitude in this work, not least in their deadpan facial expressions. (It seems that to be a Parsons dancer your acting skills have to be well developed.) The program closes with the joyful Nascimento, another ensemble piece that allows the dancers, alone and in groups, to stretch their limbs and react to the titular Brazilian musician’s ebullient inspiration. (Note to self: Must get more Milton Nascimento!)

Each of the works is introduced by Parsons himself, who looks and sounds like a typical Midwesterner—maybe someone you would talk to in the waiting room while your car’s oil is being changed. No affectation here.

The Mozart, Stravinsky, and Rossini selections are performed by the Danish Concert Orchestra, and the credits to this DVD suggest that it was recorded partly or wholly in Denmark, for whatever reason. These seem to be strictly made-for-television performances—of an audience there is no hint whatsoever. The sound and full-screen picture are not dated at all.

Although I don’t expect to repeat the entire DVD very often, Brothers, The Envelope, and Nascimento all are wonderful enough to keep on hand, and they are very different. In one of the interviews included here, Parsons shows justifiable pride for not having cornered himself into becoming formulaic. If that means sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, then I’m OK with that, as long as the successes are as brilliant as the ones preserved here.

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