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Of Swamps, Black Flowers and Alligators: Parsons Dance at the Joyce…

January 29, 2013
Parson Dance in "Dawn to Dusk" Photo by Eric Bandiero

Parson Dance in “Dawn to Dusk” Photo by Eric Bandiero

David Parsons and Parsons Dance returned to the Joyce with two premieres, the World Premiere of Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Black Flowers and the New York Premiere of David Parsons’ Dawn to Dusk, commissioned as part of Wolf Trap’s Face of America Series: Spirit of South Florida.

David Parson’s Dawn to Dusk was a bit of a surprise…as a rule I do not read press releases very carefully before a performance. When I take my seat and the curtain goes up I want the experience to be unbiased by information that may color my opinion or reaction. Hence, all I knew to expect from Dawn to Dusk was an image of a crane in flight, and another image of some trees…that’s it…and I am so glad I did….

Parson Dance in "Dawn to Dusk" Photo by Eric Bandiero

Parson Dance in “Dawn to Dusk” Photo by Eric Bandiero

David Parsons and members of Parsons Dance traveled to Florida in November 2011 with a ten-person film crew and members of Wolf Trap’s production team. Dawn to Dusk was inspired from those ten days as they were immersed in the natural environments of Big Cypress, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, and Everglades National Parks. The work is set to music by Grammy Award winner Andrew Bird and Miami’s Tiempo Libre, incorporates photography by Clyde Butcher and film by Blue Land Media that is shown on a large screen throughout the dance. Mr. Parsons explored clever ways to bring the film and the dancers into a unifying whole. So that you are not witnessing two different mediums of the stage but a blend of the two into a unifying format of expression.

From the very beginning we hear the poignant statement “We are all from the Earth…” something that at times seems forgotten in our determination to rob the Earth of any and all natural resources as if they are in never-ending availability.

We see an alligator’s lazy tread through water; Abby Silva Gavezzoli walks backwards with her arms held up before her as the alligator slowly swims her way. So begins the intertwining of nature, film and dance.

Mr. Parsons incorporated the natural movement rhythms and forms found in nature into the work. Seven dancers, hand on the shoulder of the dancer in front of them weaves across the stage in a serpentine manner. The dancers also danced with themselves, Ms. Silva Gavezzoli, in a black top and a sheer long red skirt performed an impeccable duet with her larger than life image that was projected behind her.

We see Steve Vaughn’s head slowly rising out of the Everglades swampy waters, first to eye level he checks to see if it is safe, and then he exposes his whole head, looks around and then slowly submerges back under the water.

The dancers are fearless, wading, weaving and submerging themselves in the waters of the Florida Everglades.  We see a Crane in the water take flight and then we see Mr. Vaughn again rising out of the waters, with water cascading from his outstretched arms he mirrors the flight of the Crane. It is a majestic moment of surreal beauty that has to be witnessed to be appreciated fully. The moment, the blending of nature and man, could not have been better expressed.

Parsons Dance in "Dawn to Dusk" Phot by Eric Bandiero

Parsons Dance in “Dawn to Dusk” Phot by Eric Bandiero

Towards the end of the work the imagery and music shifted to the Latin beats so often found in Miami’s night life. Here, Mr. Parson loses me…the dancers come out in black pants and black sequin tops dancing to a sumba beat that I could not tie in with the naturalism that was exhibited in the Everglades. This section of the dance lacked the magic and mysticism I had witnessed in the natural environment, it seemed like two different works forced together.

Last season’s guest choreographer and former Parsons’ dancer, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, explored her Polish roots in the World Premiere of Black Flowers, a work for six dancers which featured the music of the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin. There is darkness to be found in Black Flowers, it is not openly expressed but resides just under the surface, simmering but suppressed.

Christina Ilisije captures us from the beginning as she steps away from the group for an all too brief solo of deep emotion and passion constrained. You felt the anguish of every gesture while your heart pulled with every movement. Bravo…

Christina Ilisije, Lauren Garson & Melissa Ullom in "Black Flowers" Photo by Eric Bandiero.

Christina Ilisije, Lauren Garson & Melissa Ullom in “Black Flowers” Photo by Eric Bandiero.

The women, Christina Ilisije, Melissa Ullom and Lauren Garson were soberly dressed in black shifts as if in mourning with the men clad in white that lends them an otherworldliness. The work at times seemed to interplay between death and what death leaves behind, not a full exploration but rather a gathered glimpse here and there.

Jason Macdonald and Eric Bourne’s duet grabbed you. It is a tender yet emotionally charged and athletic as it was emotional. The dance was a bold blend of male passions, each expressing loss, and each giving comfort where comfort was needed. Both men seemed connected in a charged way, there was a tension between them that was palatable, it was not sexual nor was it fraternal but something that is deeply rooted in both that speaks with a primal voice.

Steve Vaughn threw himself into his solo with an increasing abandonment that grew with each leap and turn. He was in the air then on the floors, always exhibiting full control with an unbridled energy that bubbled for release.

Jason Macdonald & Eric Bourne in "Black Flowers" Photo by Eric Bandiero

Jason Macdonald & Eric Bourne in “Black Flowers” Photo by Eric Bandiero

The final image of the work was a strong expression of solidarity that only grief can bring as the three women kneel together with arms raised and as gloom slowly gathers around them their clinched fists slowly release into the acceptance of inevitable.

Ms. Skarpetowska has proved that her choreography speaks from a deep place from within the heart. A placed that tends to be locked and it seems that she has found the key and willing to expose its content to the light.

The program also included David Parsons’ 2005 Mozart-inspired work, Wolfgang; ensemble classic, In The End, with music by Dave Matthews Band, and David Parsons’ stroboscopic masterwork, Caught, which is always a treat!

****Now, as a sidebar, I would like to state that I was born and bred in the Mississippi Delta and I myself have had plenty of experiences in swamps with its majestic Cypress trees and mystically hanging Spanish Moss, so I when I say the dancers were FEARLESS…I truly mean it….swamps tend to be inhibited by alligators, large ones, a large variety of snakes and most of them with fangs dripping poison and mosquitos so large they requite their own zip-code… all this encompassed in murky water with muddy bottoms that will swallow you up to your knees…as such and with all due respect to David Parsons there is no VOLUNTARY way Mr. Parsons would have gotten me in those waters! While watching the piece I involuntarily shuddered once or twice just thinking about it….Oh I forgot to mention the Bullfrogs…..

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