Parsons Dance at Prince Theater

On Saturday December 10, Joy and I attended the Parson Dance Performance at the Prince Theater. We were especially excited to see the performance because we had just taken a masterclass with two of the dancers the day before. The house was quite crowded, but we managed to buy student rush tickets for two seats next to each other at the back of the house. The program consisted of 6 pieces with a brief intermission and Q & A with the company at the end of the show.FullSizeRender 2Parsons Dance Company is a New York City based modern dance company founded in 1985 by Artistic Director David Parsons and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley. The 9-dancer company tours internationally and continues to produce innovative works blending the intersections of technical lighting design and movement art.

The Machines (2016)
Choreography by David Parsons
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Music by John Mackey
Drone Design by Dr. Youngmoo Kim & Drexel University ExCITe Center students

This was the world premiere of this piece. The dancers, who all wore safety goggles, interacted with 2 flying drones custom created by Drexel University ExCITe Center students. Set to dramatic, futuristic “end of the world” music, the dancers seemed to either be in a fight with the drones or to be controlled by the drones. The red, blue, and purple spotlights and backdrops seemed to signal danger.

At the end of the piece, David Parsons and Dr. Kim came out to discuss a little about the process of combining robotics and dance. Apparently, the scene in the beginning where the dancers start from crawling on the floor to standing up was supposed to signify evolution of bipedalism. This made me laugh because I learned about this in my Anatomy & Physiology class! Dr. Kim explained how his team of 15 undergrad computer science and engineering students (for their senior capstone design project) contributed to the drones project. They built a fleet of 9 drones with a $450 budget per drone. The drones were not remote piloted nor GPS positioned, but controlled by a computer system (using both open source and custom code) and a motion capture system. A System of 8 cameras that beam down infrared light interact with the drones’ movement to create feedback transmission and reception of the drone’s position. David Parsons joked he’s waiting for a review that says “I liked drone #2” and referenced Brave New World.

Marriage of technology and creative expression. – Dr. Kim

The whole project reminded me of my days in Physics Advanced Electronics Lab and my interests in the intersections of science and art. If I were a Drexel student, I would have jumped at the chance to work on this project because I would be able to see it from both viewpoints as a physicist and a dancer.

Finding Center (2015)
Choreography by David Parsons
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Music by Thomas Newman
Costumes by Naomi Luppescu

This piece involved a lot of lifts and dancing In and out of a center spotlight. There were 3 spotlights that also shot up vertically against the backdrop, which complemented the 3 pairs of male and female dancers. The marimba music was soothing, and I could see traces of African dance inspired in some of the movements. I was most mesmerized by the lifts. The male dancers would lift and twirl the female dancers so effortlessly.

Hand Dance (2003)
Choreography by David Parsons
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Music Arranged by Kenji Bunch
Costume Concept by David Parsons

Lighting was key in this piece because the spotlight only showed five dancers’ hands that moved in time with a country rag style violin and piano music. The hands moved in such synchronization that it almost was as if the show was animated.

Almah (2016)
Choreography by Katarzyna Skarpetowska
Lighting Design by Burke Brown
Music by Ljova
Costumes by Naomi Lupescu

This piece also involved a lot of partnering and lifts. Set to jazzy clarinet and brass music, 6 dancers danced in an out of spotlights and dimmer lighting. The middle of the piece also featured a beautiful duet by Ian Spring and Geena Pacareu set to Arabic singing music.

Caught (1982)
Choreography by David Parsons
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Music by Robert Fripp, “Let the Power Fall”
Costume Design by Judy Wirkula

This was my favorite piece of the program. To me, the use of playing with a dancer’s movements and strength and endurance of jumping to be “caught” mid-flight by strobe light flashes is quintessential to Parsons Dance’s signature lighting design and dance intertwining. Soloist Ian Spring appears to be suspended by a string and moved across the stage. But when the lights black out, he is really running to his next position and jumping to create that effect. A spotlight occasionally turns on and right before it turns on, Ian runs to the center to be “caught,” The angle of the spotlight also forces the dancer to freeze so as to not give away that he is breathing heavily and tired from jumping all across the stage.

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In The End (2005)
Choreography by David Parsons
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Music by Dave Matthews Band
Costume Design by Mia Mcswain

The full company closed off the program with this piece set to a mix of rock and salsa music. I got an 80’s vibe from the piece, but it was actually produced in 2005. I wondered how the dancers could be so flexible in jeans, but the costumes seemed to go with the concept of dancer friends rocking out and having fun. There was hair flipping, there was dramatic falling to the ground, there were jumps and partnering. Everything was high energy — even for Ian who was probably VERY tired from just performing Caught. I thought dancers Deidre Rogan and Justus Whitfield really shined in this piece.

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