David Parsons is bringing his internationally renowned dance company to Columbia for the first time to perform audience favorites from the company’s 30-year career.
The dance company is known for its energized, athletic ensemble work and will revisit its greatest choreography and share its newest creations, including a piece where a dancer does 100 leaps in six minutes. The New York-based modern and contemporary dancers have toured in nearly 400 cities in 20-plus countries, including venues like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Maison de la Danse in France, Teatro La Fenice in Italy and Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.
We spoke with Parsons, the artistic director and choreographer, to find out what attendees can expect from Columbia’s one-night only event.
Q: What drew you to Columbia for this tour?
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A: We have been incredibly lucky this year to be a recipient of the South Arts’ Dance Touring Initiative, which helps ballet and modern dance companies reach new audiences in the Southern region of the country. We are so grateful to have been awarded this support and this opportunity and are excited to be meeting members of each community through performances, lecture demonstrations, student workshops and community engagement.
Q: What can the audience expect from the performance?
A: We have a spectacular group of artists to share with you all. These are world-class professionals and I am very, very proud of them. We are presenting you a roller coaster ride of emotion, of physicality and emotion. Our newest work, “Finding Center,” with music from the Academy Award-winning composer Thomas Newman from the film “American Beauty,” will have its South Carolina premiere. Audiences will also witness a classic work that is a little comic “ditty” with 10 hands we call “Hand Dance; Kind of Blue,” which is a flirtatious and alluring quartet that celebrates the life and music of Miles Davis; my signature solo work “Caught” – which never ceases to astound – and a Parsons classic, “Nascimento,” named for the legendary Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento.
Q: Is there a favorite piece you like to perform?
A: With a repertoire of over 75 dances, the company is always kept on their toes! The most iconic piece in the repertoire is “Caught”, which I created in 1982 and still amazes audiences today. The piece derives its crowd-pleasing power by the simple device of a strobe light, timed always to catch the performer in air between leaps and jumps.
Q: How many hours do the dancers train and practice to prepare for a performance?
A: A typical rehearsal day is six to eight hours in the studio. The dancers take a class in the morning to warm up and then spend the day learning and rehearsing pieces in the repertoire.
Q: What do you look for when bringing on new dancers?
A: I look for dancers who are smart. With such a vast repertoire and so many performances each year, I need a dancer who can learn material quickly, ask smart questions, and take cues from others. I also look for a dancer who is trained in multiple styles and has a special spark that can draw you into their energy and spirit.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration for the pieces you create? How did you choose which performances to include in this tour?
A: I get inspiration from everything around me, especially from other artists. Be it visual artists, other performers, or musicians, I am continually impressed and inspired by fellow artists, many of whom I then go on to collaborate with.
Q: Can you talk about the dance class for dancers along the autism spectrum you’re planning here?
A: Our journey working with the autistic community began while in residency at New York City Public School PS75, in their “Early Nest” program, an academic learning environment especially tailored for ASD students. Teaching dance to a classroom of children on the autism spectrum introduced Parsons to the unique needs of the autistic community, and the therapeutic impact dance can have for this particular population. The more we learned about this community, we were compelled to provide opportunities to access the joy of dance.
Through our relaxed performances, we are able to share the magic of the theater with all audiences, regardless of ability. Audiences can expect an amended version of a Parsons Dance full-length evening performance. Sensory stimuli such as lights and sound are also modified for relaxed performances. In addition, the theater designates quiet spaces to take a break from the show.
If at all possible, it is our goal to have personal interactions with audiences that attend our relaxed performances. In some cities on tour, we are able to hold workshops with children on the spectrum and their families, where we explore the communicative power of dance and movement together.