“Caught” Up with David Parsons

Parsons Dance

If someone were to lead a workshop on the art of choreographing, David Parsons would be a top contender. The choreographer and artistic director of his own company, Parsons Dance, since 1985, has created works through commissions from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre (ABT), New York City Ballet and the Paul Taylor Dance Company, not to mention the multitude of works for his own dancers. He even choreographed and directed the dance elements of the turn of the millennium celebration in Times Square.

Parsons Dance

Parsons Dance in Stray’s Lullaby. Photo by Krista Bonura.

This past June 22-26, Parsons offered a Master Choreography Workshop, held at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Participants had the opportunity to take classes with him, learn about his choreographic process, create new work with company members, and receive mentorship from Parsons and special guest artist Kate Skarpetowska, a Parsons Dance alumna and thriving choreographer.

Dance Informa caught up with Parsons, after a summer full of this choreographic workshop, a summer intensive workshop and also a company audition for Parsons Dance, with the introduction of the company’s newest member, Zoey Anderson.  

For the David Parsons Master Choreography Workshop, Parsons and Skarpetowska partnered together to teach composition and show the tools of the trade. 

“We joined forces to show the short cuts you learn over the years and years of choreographing,” Parsons explains. “How to pull things out of dancers, how to deal with concepts. The basic concepts. And technology, how to use technology today. In the end, it’s just to get them excited about being creative. Get those creative juices flowing and keep them going. It’s not all about dance. It’s how they find concepts around them. So it’s natural. We think it’s really an important week.” 

David Parsons

David Parsons. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Over the years, Parsons has certainly proven himself to be a creative choreographer. One of his works, Caught, which was choreographed in 1982 and has been set on Ailey and ABT, uses a strobe light to catch the dancers when they’re in mid-air on a dark stage, so the audience never sees them touch the ground. As a choreographer who likes to utilize technology, Parsons is currently working with some “highly sophisticated robots”. Both of these works will be shown at Parsons Dance’s upcoming season at The Joyce Theater this January. 

This summer, Parsons also hosted the Parsons Dance Summer Intensive Workshop, held all over the world – Italy, Kansas City, New York City. He calls the two-week workshops “very intensive”, as the dancers learn Parsons’ repertory and technique, which is very physically demanding.

“We’re known around the dance world as a very physical company,” Parsons says. “These kids get sore. And our dancers are top-notch, world class, and they can really see that.” 

At the end of the NYC intensive, Parsons Dance held a company audition. Two hundred seventy-five dancers attended, and eventually it was narrowed down to just one female, Anderson, who will join the eight to 10-member troupe. 

When asked what he looks for in a dancer, Parsons says he/she has got to have passion

“All choreographers say this, but it’s really true,” he adds. “Because there are certain dancers who have to dance. And that’s the prerequisite. After that, they’ve got to be stunning. They’ve got to walk into a room and not even dance and make you feel something. Also, it’s a very small group, so you’ve got to be cool.”

Although Parsons says the company doesn’t tour as much as it has in the past, they still make it around the world: to Brazil, Chile, Russia, China and Europe. 

As someone who has been creating work, successfully, for over 30 years, Parsons sure has a list of career highlights. 

Parsons Dance

Parsons Dance. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

“Some of the moments are so priceless,” Parsons says. “After a Brazilian tour, I rented a boat, taking a great group of dancers, and we just took off down the Amazon River. I choreographed Aida in Verona in the Roman Room. That was amazing. It really has to do with creation and travel and moments that are just unbelievable.”

That said, with a long list of wonderful, exciting memories, even Parsons says that being an artist and having a company has its challenges. 

“We’re always struggling for money,” he admits. “We’re not a subsidized company at all. That and just keeping your energy going – those are the two challenges. You just have to keep going. You get over these humps, and there’s always another hump. I think for choreographers or any artist, you cannot rest on your laurels. It just doesn’t work. It’s a strenuous, stressful way to lead your life, but you develop tools to get over it. But then the other point is, we stop and do these three-week programs here and there in Italy and other places. And when I start them, at my age, I think, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go teach students.’ And then I get there, and I’m totally revitalized as an artist! You just channel back to when you started, and it’s wonderful. I get that energy from young people.”

Be sure to check out Parsons Dance this January in NYC. For tickets, head to The Joyce website.

By Laura Di Orio and Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Sarah Braverman, Christina Ilisije, Ian Spring, Elena d’Amario, Geena Pacareu, Omar Roman De Jesus, Eoghan Dillon, and Jason_MacDonald of Parsons Dance. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

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