at Triton College

November 7, 1987

David Parsons, for eight years a principal with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, has now struck out on his own–and what a strike! The program he brought to Triton College was witty, imaginative, and technically assured. Parsons, all of 27 now, will be a major force in choreography.

There is no question that Parsons has been influenced by Taylor, the master of today’s modern dance. But Parsons has his own voice. At present it is a comic voice for the most part, but not one that eschews bravura effects. In Caught, his breathtaking strobe-light solo, he is seemingly frozen in midair. If this dance was slightly more astounding when performed by the Eliot Feld Company at the Goodman a couple of seasons ago, it was not the Parsons performance that was at fault, but the less-than-perfect technical resources of the Triton theater. In any case, Caught is a stunning example of what a bright young imagination can come up with.

The same can be said of The Envelope, which has become a Chicago favorite thanks to previous performances by the Feld company and our own Hubbard Street Dance Company. The Envelope is a very funny piece set to a collage of Rossini’s operatic overtures; in it an unwanted envelope keeps appearing and reappearing to confound a group of hooded, black-clad figures. It is a nutty, tongue-in-cheek spoof of such icons as the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake and the body-contorting insect dances of Pilobolus.

The program included three new Parsons works. Three Courtesies was an affectionately satiric look at a prom or cotillion, in which three white-gowned young ladies are lined up for their first important party. Dianne Howarth, Gail Gilbert, and Denise Roberts were the three nervous yet eager girls, while Parsons, Scot Willingham, and Jaime Martinez were their equally uneasy gallants. Parsons, young enough to remember his own first social-dance outing, has managed to capture both the insecurities of his three couples and then the wonderful sense of accomplishment they feel as their boy-girl relationships take shape. The Bach cello sonata was a perfect accompaniment, reminding one of the timelessness of these social interactions.

Sleep Study, set to music from the movies and from the BB’s, is just that–a hilarious study in how seven people sleep and, mostly, try to sleep. Six dancers roll over and over each other, falling into weird and wildly improbable poses, while one man, lying toward the front of the stage, is prone throughout. The audience recognized themselves and loved it. Some children in the audience laughed out loud–a wonderful sound in a theater.

Scrutiny, the curtain raiser, set to a taped score by Michael Raye, was also an exploration–of movement, and of how the dancers see themselves and each other. The movement was intriguing, for the most part, but the dance seemed to run out of ideas long before it ended.

Tightwire, danced in silence, was a serious, enigmatic piece that seemed to deal with the neurotic burdens people carry. From the moment the six dancers stepped onstage, with open palms on their thighs, carrying their bodies tensely, crisscrossing the stage very slowly, we could feel the weight of their problems. At one point, several huddle together in conversation that rapidly degenerates into incomprehensible shrieks. Is this scream therapy? If so it’s not very therapeutic, for the dancers continue to relate to each other with cool indifference. The dance has a mesmerizing impact. As the dancers press on, the sound of their bare feet on the stage builds to an uncomfortable intensity. Jerome Robbins created Moves to silence many years ago, but that dance dealt with pure abstract movement. Parsons’s Tightwire deals with human beings caught up in modern life, and it had an unnerving effect. It doesn’t communicate on the same surface level as the other dances; I’d like to see it again to clarify my thoughts.

For that matter, Parsons and his brilliant, assured troupe need to be seen again and again in Chicago. This young native midwesterner, who looks like a corn-fed country bumpkin, possesses a keen, sophisticated choreographic vision and a brilliant movement vocabulary. He offers great hope for the future of modern dance.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lois Greenfield.