The ebullient Parsons Dance Company returned to the Triangle exactly one year after its sizzling performance at NC State, this time dancing for a small but enthusiastic audience in the venerable Carolina Theatre of Durham. That former vaudeville house made a fitting setting for David Parsons' good-humored and energetic entertainments.
The program opened with "The Envelope," from 1986. This farcical romp set to music by Gioacchino Rossini, with black-garbed dancers chasing, tossing, guarding, passing on and ultimately trying to rid themselves of a large envelope, has taken on unsettling overtones in light of recent history. It is just not possible to look at people in black pajamas and black head coverings these days without shivers of fear and shame. To this viewer, the envelope was too good an analogy for information, dangerous information, and the combative antics of the dancers too provoking of thoughts of secret prisons and fanatic fighters, to feel the fun originally intended. When the envelope shoots back onto the stage after the dancers have fled, it certainly doesn't look innocent. It looks like an Improvised Explosive Device lying on an Iraqi road.
Fortunately, the next work is unambiguously delightful. In "Handance," we see only the hands of the five dancers, but those hands do as much kinetic work as whole bodies. Set to lively music by Kenji Bunch for the Ahn Trio, "Handance" is a delight and astonishment. Like the company's signature "Caught," the work depends as much on human love for optical illusions and transformative games as on the prowess of the dancers. It is just plain fun to watch those agile fingers apparently becoming a troupe of different characters performing a wide range of activities. And it thrills the spirit always longing to soar to see the solo dancer (the awesome Tommy Scrivens) apparently flying around the stage, thanks to the magic of strobe lights.
The program closed with "In the End," a party jam set to a suite of songs by the Dave Matthews Band. The extremely high-energy and athletic piece appeared to be a slightly reworked version of "DMB" as seen last year in Stewart Theater. It's upbeat, happy-making, with some impressive catches of bodies hurtling through space. While it supplied a good final crescendo to the evening, it was the piece before the intermission that moved me most. "Swing Shift" (with the Ahn Trio playing a Kenji Bunch composition) had more beauty than gloss, and more grace than verve—commissioned in 2003, it is a much more mature piece of choreography than the earlier signature pieces. Its greatest value is its emphasis on human connection, emotional and physical. The dancers do not merely pair off, they become couples, and their connections light the formal qualities of the dance from within, like a smile.
Dance can be about many things, but the vicissitudes and joys of humans moving through life together is one of its greater subjects.