Parsons Dance, the company of well-known contemporary choreographer David Parsons, has some of the most fearless, exuberant, and technically advanced dancers around. Fortunately for New Yorkers, those dancers are performing a show this month of five new works at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea. Their show is varied but complex and exciting all the way through—during the Sunday performance, the dancers elicited laughs, cheers, and standing ovations from the delighted audience.
Parsons’ style is thoroughly his own: contemporary, but with strong ballet influences and a proclivity to use extras, such as strobe lights, film, and multiple costume changes. It is a testament to his ability as a choreographer that these add to, rather than detract from, his movement.
The most extreme example of these extras comes in “Dawn to Dusk,” an ambitious work commissioned as part of Wolf Trap’s “Face of America: Spirit of South Florida” campaign, which aims to represent themes of the region’s national parks through performance. The dancers had traveled to southern Florida to film themselves dancing—and posing, and sometimes just staring at nature—in the Everglades. This film is shown on a screen in the back of the stage while the dancers perform to the music of Andrew Bird. Often, film on stage during a dance performance is gratuitous, but Parsons integrates the film with the dancing. Sometimes the dancers imitate the animals, while at other times a dancer performs the same choreography as he or she is performing on the screen, creating an interesting seeing-double effect. The piece is bizarre, comical, and entertaining right to its Miami-inspired finish.
But even without film, the other four pieces hold their own. “Caught,” a solo for one male dancer, uses strobe lights to great effect: While he jumps and turns around the stage, the strobe lights’ flashing gives the audience only fleeting glimpses of his movement. The result is that it seems as though he never touches the ground, but rather is floating in midair for the piece’s entirety. “Wolfgang,” the show’s playful opening piece, features the dancers in peasant-inspired costumes dancing to Mozart. The choreography leans heavily on partnering and explores the relationships between the dancers, who appear genuinely happy to be dancing with each other. The overall effect is something out of a fairy tale.
The weakest choreography of the show is Katarzyna Skarpetowska's world premiere of “Black Flowers,” a brooding, somber work with a little bit too much agonized face- and body-clutching for my taste. But the movement—which is heavily gymnastic and difficult—showcases the dancers’ breathtaking ability to throw themselves around the stage. In one solo, the male dancer dives horizontally across the stage onto the floor, only to immediately rebound and continue dancing. The work also contains a wonderful, emotional pas de deux for two men, something not often seen in the world of dance.
An upbeat, jazz-inspired piece to the music of Dave Matthews closes the performance. In brightly colored tank tops and jeans, the dancers seem to be having the time of their lives. Their energy was infectious, and many of the audience members left the show grinning widely.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that David Parsons choreographed "Black Flowers." Katarzyna Skarpetowska, in fact, choreographed the work. Spectator regrets the error.
Parsons Dance is performing at the Joyce Theater through Jan. 27.