Pleasure as a guiding principle is not always found in modern art of any kind. There are good reasons for this. The world is full of troubles, and its creative people legitimately express sorrow, horror, struggle, anxiety, and neuroses. But how wonderful — how refreshing – it is to see a whole program full of joyous energy!
Such was the case in NCSU's Stewart Theater on November 3, when the Parsons Dance Company performed an ebullient program. (Parsons will perform in Boone on November 8: see our calendar for details.) Stewart Theater is a very enjoyable place to see modern dance, as there is so little separation between artists and audience — even at the back, the performers' faces are easy to read — and the rake is such that clear sightlines are pretty much guaranteed. The ten Parsons dancers electrified a full house with their varied, six-work performance.
Company founder and artistic director David Parsons is a former Paul Taylor Company dancer, and some of Taylor's balletic lyricism can be seen in Parsons' choreography. But Parsons is a much younger man, and his works, although highly accomplished, hum with the energy and humorous attitudes of youth. The program opened with "Wolfgang," an exuberant, pauseless tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose music was nearly unrecognizable as such because it had been transposed for percussion instruments and keyboard. The dancers ran and leaped and "swam" through the air, making shapes singly and as groups that reflected the weave of sounds. Speed and precision in constant motion, not surprisingly, were dominant themes, and there was little in the way of floor work or lifts.
"Hand Dance" allowed dancers and audience to catch their breath. This hilarious little work — all fun, no pretense — had five dancers on a darkened stage, with only their hands lit, and only the hands dancing to a rollicking bluegrass-type score arranged by Kenji Bunch for the Ahn Trio. It was fabulous, and what a contrast to the turgid, failed hand dance by the Brian Brooks Moving Company during last summer's ADF!
Set to majestic music by Michael Raye, with vaguely Elizabethan costumes by William Ivey Long, "Scrutiny" was to me the most beautiful dance on the program. Three couples check each other out, changing partners until the fit is right, in an elegant series of interchanges. The piece is packed with lifts, some of them quite unusual, and some stunning turns, particularly those by Abby Silva. This is a work that will last, one that could be happily seen many times.
After the intermission, the pleasing "Slow Dance" formed a prelude to the well-known and highly anticipated "Caught," a solo tour-de-force set to strobe light and the music of Robert Fripp. Performed here by Tommy Scrivens, "Caught" is the kind of knock-out, show-off piece that is a thrill to see, but it is not a work likely to reveal new subtleties on repeated viewings. Its pleasure, in a way, is very like that of the Eadweard Muybridge photographs from the 1880s of animals in motion. The stop-action provided by the strobe light allows you to see realities about bodies and movement that uninterrupted motion obscures.
The evening's grand finale was "DMB," a suite of five pieces set to songs by Dave Matthews (written between 1998 and 2005) and performed by the Dave Matthews Band. While some people would say that what the DMB expresses is already last century's zeitgeist, the more recent songs like "When the World Ends" and "Out of my Hands" still work for me. But what was marvelous here was the freshness of the dancing and the exhilaration of the dancers, some of whom couldn't stop grinning as they tore through this hybrid of party jam and modern dance.
It was a joyful reminder that the world hasn't ended yet. Perhaps we will all survive to smile — and dance — another day.