While dance company The Bang Group performs work that is tap, contemporary, classical and dance theater, or sometimes a combination of them all, the underlying characteristic that pulls the group’s repertory together is rhythm. Dancers may use their bare feet to create a “hoofing” rhythm, wear pointe shoes to tap in, or use percussive gestures to utilize the body as a musical instrument. This requires that the company’s dancers be versatile in their range of style and in sync with each other. And it is no wonder that the director behind The Bang Group, David Parker, comes from an eclectic dance background himself.
This year, The Bang Group celebrates its 20th anniversary. The troupe continues to be, as it always has been, innovative in its styles and ideas.
Parker, choreographer and director of The Bang Group, along with Jeff Kazin, formed the company in 1995. Parker originally studied tap dance in Boston, where he would perform on pieces of plywood on sidewalks throughout the city, and he began his ballet training shortly thereafter. He went on to study modern and post-modern dance at Bard College and then moved to New York City in 1979 to train at the Merce Cunningham School and with ballet teacher Janet Panetta. With the desire to pull all of his dance styles into one “pot”, he says, he began performing as an experimental tap dancer and a modern dancer with multiple choreographers. He also began to choreograph his own work.
An early and successful piece, Bang, fueled the formation of The Bang Group. Parker and his collective of dancers began touring nationally and internationally, and Parker was often commissioned to do works for other companies. The Bang Group is now in residence at New York City’s The West End Theater, where it presents a thrice-yearly festival, Soaking WET. The company has a second home in Boston and a summer home at The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard, where Parker and other choreographers curate an annual festival of percussive dance, Tap the Yard. In addition, The Bang Group performs regularly at venues throughout New York City. This past February and March marked the company’s premiere of Tap Lab, an ongoing project uniting tap and contemporary dance, at the Harkness Dance Festival. The Bang Group will next perform at Boston’s OBERON in May.
Parker says that his rhythm-based company “draws ideas from all corners of the dance canon and is performed by dancers of varied creeds for audiences who love dance. No other company I know of unites rhythm, choreographic rigor, humor and a wholesome representation of same-sex relationships across a spectrum of dance styles and modes.”
The Bang Group currently has four full-time dancers – Parker, Kazin, Amber Sloan and Nic Petry – all of whom have been with the company for at least 10 years. “We share a background in Janet Panetta’s training, which is based on the Cecchetti method, as well as immersion in our own impulses and years of working together, which has forged a kind of kinetic sensibility that includes sensitivity to rhythm, humor, theatrical impact, timing and something I would call showmanship.”
With a group who has been together for that long, company member Amber Sloan says they feel “like family”.
“That intimacy and connection shows onstage, and our love of the work is obvious by our commitment to the company,” says Sloan, who joined The Bang Group in 2002.
The Bang Group also employs a larger group of dancers when projects call for it, such as Tap Lab or the popular Nut/Cracked, a comic, neo-vaudeville version of The Nutcracker that has toured for the last 12 seasons.
“In dancers, I look for an appetite for processes that are exacting, such as the translation of musical scores into dance patterns, great skills with rhythm and a sense of psychological dissonance,” Parker says. “By that, I mean that the dancers show something about him or herself through dancing that I cannot detect any other way.”
Parker creates most of the company’s movement, but he does sometimes allow for choreographic contributions from the dancers, as long as it remains within his artistic voice and style.
“For me, the best part is being in the studio every day with David as he choreographs new work,” Sloan says. “It’s exciting to be a part of the creative process as he tries out new ideas, experiments with structure and timing and creates new material. The variety of dance styles keeps me constantly challenged and inspired to improve my artistry. You might finally master that one step, but then you are asked to do it on pointe or while carrying another dancer or to only do the rhythm of the left foot.”
As a choreographer, Parker is influenced by Merce Cunningham, Fred Astaire and Frederick Ashton, by Hollywood musicals from the 1930s-60s and by vaudeville and short film.
“I am inspired by the liberation from conventional roles that being gay has allowed me to experience, and I bring that awareness to my work,” Parker adds. “I don’t come up with themes before creating. I create and respond to what I see. I let the movement speak to me, and I follow its impulses. I enjoy working with firm structures like musical scores or choreographic scores, and I’m often seeking new ways to make dance rhythm reveal states of mind.”
In fact, Parker is now creating a quartet by translating Morton Feldman’s For John Cage, a score written for violin and piano, into tap steps. The dancing, rather than the music, will “play” the score.
“It has taken six months to make 11 minutes due to the painstaking work of translating non-percussive music into tapping,” Parker explains. “This is about one-fifth of the score, and I plan to keep going, which will probably take two more years.”
With The Bang Group’s expansive range of styles, music, rhythms and ideas, it seems that there is something for every audience.
“The Bang Group’s repertory is very accessible to the general public,” Sloan ensures. “People can relate to the work either through its theatricality or its humor. Some people are apprehensive about attending a modern dance concert because they fear they won’t ‘get it’ or understand it. The variety of our pieces on the program offers something for everyone. There are serious rhythmic pieces, pieces with singing, tapping, slapping, sliding and hoofing. The music ranges from Mozart to Michael Jackson, Steve Reich to Morton Feldman. It’s not to be missed!”
For more information on The Bang Group or the company’s upcoming performances, head to www.thebanggroup.com.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): The Bang Group. Dancers Jeffrey Kazin, Nic Petry, David Parker, and Amber Sloan. Photo by Melissa Blackall.