Imagine a man suspended with no strings in sight. As he floats across the floor, he seems almost otherworldly.
From swing to African dance to ballet, the Parsons Dance repertoire this January pulls from several genres of movement to provide a diverse artistic experience for its audience. Directed by co-founder David Parsons, Parsons Dance is comprised of eight talented and eclectic contemporary dancers who can both defy gravity and melt into it thanks to their classical training and impeccable control. Their 2014 season at the Joyce Theater is an exercise in versatility and stamina, and each company member is both a performer and an athlete.
The program begins with Parsons' “The Introduction,” a world premiere that is set to a score by Rubin Kodheli that was commissioned for the project. All eight dancers combine to create a piece defined by both individualism and unity; each has a solo or pas de deux that calls on his or her specialties and allows for self-expression. Christina Ilisije's solo is especially moving as her fluidity and naturalism fill the stage with a gorgeous portrait of motion. Even her hair becomes a part of the choreography when it whips around unrestrained, as Parsons incorporated all aspects of her personality and appearance into her sequences.
While “The Introduction” is a love letter to Parsons' company members, “Brothers” is a quirky, idiosyncratic abstraction that plays with classical structures as transitional poses. Ian Spring and Steven Vaughn hop in and out of fifth positions as they jaunt through steps that are both synchronized and slightly off at the same time. Several key repetitions of movement foster accord in a piece defined by perplexity and melancholy, and though it debuted in 1982, “Brothers” still feels fresh and inquisitive.
Alvin Ailey's artistic director, Robert Battle, choreographed “The Hunt” for Parsons Dance in 2001, and the company has revived the high-energy, dynamic work this season. Like much of Ailey's repertoire, “The Hunt” implements definite elements of African civilization while also including a vicious, violent undertone. Though a solid attempt at raging chaos, “The Hunt” is not necessarily a success—it feels strained and gives off an unsettling vibe of cultural appropriation. Four lithe female dancers often face each other in a circle, much like in tribal dance, and their features and physicality demonstrate animalism and aggression. As Les Tambours du Bronx's music loudly pumps through the Joyce, the women bare their teeth, clap and slap their thighs, and force their fingers into claws as the background changes from putrid greens to bright, bloody reds.
After the intermission, Parsons' “Kind of Blue” lightens the mood with a tribute to jazz musician Miles Davis. Elena D'Amario seamlessly transitions from the twist to an inside pirouette, displaying immaculate self-possession that makes her motions smooth and seductive. However, “Caught” steals the show, especially with Ian Spring at its helm. Another Parsons original, the solo captures the brilliance of the dancer's body. As he stands under a spotlight, Spring forms stunning tableaux with his head and shoulders that transition between vulnerability and strength. Then, the theater goes black, and he launches himself into a series of jumps as the lights flash on and off, fabricating the illusion of levitation. While he jetés around the stage, his lines and angles blur and his movements become increasingly surreal, resulting in a seemingly magical performance.
The program concludes with a second all-company repertoire, “Nascimento Novo,” which wraps up the evening with a light, simple sentiment. A pas de deux between D'Amario and Vaughn is an honest portrait of love that combines physical chemistry with emotion and beautifully illustrates the complexity of relationships. In another exciting instance, a circle à la street dance culminates in a leap in which Miguel Angel Quinones III becomes absolutely horizontal in the air and lands on the floor as the house goes dark. Finally, clapping and swaying ensue, acting as a celebration of life.
Throughout the production, the dancers' enthusiasm is palpable. The artists exude passion, and when they execute David Parsons' choreography, they are a powerhouse. The company is vibrant, novel, and innovative—a youthful force to take over New York City.
Parsons Dance runs at the Joyce Theater (175 Eighth Ave., at 19th Street) through Jan. 26. Tickets start at $10.