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Parsons Dance Company

Leaping into Space

By Bence Olveczky

Staff Writer

One of America’s most prized ballet exports, the hugely popular Parsons Dance Company, finally introduced itself to Boston audiences last week. The long overdue visitors came to Emerson Majestic Theatre, showcasing the imaginative choreographies of their helmsman David Parsons.

Back in 1987, when Parsons founded the company, he made it his mission to bring modern dance to the widest possible audience, and anybody who has witnessed his intuitively pleasing blend of energy, humor, acrobatics, and theatricality will agree that he is true to his aim -- and successfully so.

Included in the Boston program was Sleep Study (1987), one of Parsons’ out-reach efforts. Originally conceived as part of a TV-film explaining modern dance to children, the piece uses tossing and turning to show how simple and familiar movements can be combined to create mesmerizing dance. This ingenious and intelligent idea was executed with plenty of effervescence and energy, making sure no yawns accompanied the dancing “sleepers”.

Union (1993), born out of an AIDS benefit at the Lincoln Center, featured nine dancers in a slow-paced intermingling of bodies. The dreamlike movements slowly coalesced into a wonderful, quietly pulsating organism. The effort was aided by designer Donna Karan’s striking costumes and Academy Award-winning composer John Corigliano’s score.

The Envelope (1986), with music by Rossini, featured dancers in black hoods and sunglasses shoving a lonely envelope endlessly around. With their unlikely postures and exaggerated movements, the dancers gave the impression of being alien visitors to a strange planet. This burlesque and light-hearted take on the frustrations of bureaucratic paper-pushing kept the laughs coming.

But the real crowd-pleaser was Parson’s signature piece Caught (1982). It is as brilliant as it is simple: A dancer, her leaps timed to a strobe light, appears “caught” in mid-air. Elizabeth Koeppen gave the choreography her high-flying best, leaping through the air, sometimes backwards as if sucked to the rear of the stage. This athletic, yet hauntingly poetic piece showed not only the enormous talent of David Parsons, but it also spoke to the possibilities of modern dance to engage and entertain without compromising the integrity of the art form.

The evening ended on a joyful note with Nascimento (1990), named after its Brazilian composer. In this lyrical and exuberant piece eight dancers, seemingly liberated from the strict and precise choreography of the preceding pieces, respond to the gay Latino rhythms with blithe and blissful movements, making this inspired finale a fitting celebration of life and dance.

All in all, it was a delightful and invigorating performance by the ten dancers making up the company. Parsons’ choreographies may not break new ground, but the ideas and elements he borrows from his predecessors and colleagues, most notably Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor, are blended into an accessible and engaging mix, making Parsons the Quentin Tarantino of the dance world.

Most of the pieces featured in the Boston program were old favorites, and as such they were leading up to his latest project that is coming to town in the middle of next month. “Aeros,” which will grace Emerson Majestic Theatre March 15-17, will feature Romanian gymnasts and is created by Parsons in collaboration with Daniel Ezralow, Moses Pendelton, and the team behind STOMP!. Based on Parsons talent alone, it promises to be an event not-to-be-missed.