Parsons Dance, a troupe founded by former Paul Taylor dancer David Parsons, is noted for their energy and athleticism, and their spring season at the Joyce packs a meaty punch. Staging Paul Taylor’s tremendously difficult Runes is enough in and of itself, but their commission of a new Trey McIntyre was also of paramount interest.
I can’t recall ever leaving a theater after seeing a Trey McIntyre work, and not feeling better about things. The choreographer with a penchant for pop did not disappoint in his latest work, Eight Women. As a tribute to the world’s late great diva, Aretha Franklin, Eight Women was more touching than it was cloying, less cliche than it was crisp.
McIntyre is well-versed in atypical scores. He has set dances to a wide variety of musical artists such as indie bands Of Montreal and the Shins, 60s artists the Zombies, Janis Joplin, and The Beatles, Henry Mancini’s bright and sparkling orchestrations, Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s rolicking New Orleans sound, Lou Reed, Queen…the variety – which also includes Amy Winehouse and Diana Ross – seems (pleasantly) endless.
Despite its title, Eight Women uses both male and female dancers (the full troupe) to pleasing effect. Seeing the cast in sleeveless leotards/tunics with fluttering wide legged palazzo pants in peaches and neutrals, combined with the music, it was hard not to want Eight Women to be McIntyre’s Revelations. While it doesn’t quite reach that pinnacle of perfection, it is nonetheless a fantastic bit of dancing and a tasteful tribute to an exceptional artist.
One of the most moving chapters, “Natural Woman” features a pas de deux between Parsons newbie Katie Garcia and Zoey Anderson. Refreshing in its departure from conventional hetereosexual partnering, there were some beautiful, moving and difficult lifts. Anderson is a showy performer, which, combined with her Gwen Stefani-esque makeup styling, can be overbearing. But in Eight Women she found a way to turn up the sympatico, particularly in a solo to “I Say A Little Prayer.“ McIntyre makes dancers pop up in small tight bundles of energy before exploding with outward gestures (something Taylor was also good at). In poolside speak: a reverse cannonball. Eight Women was a nice vehicle for Henry Steele who proved his mettle in several works throughout the evening. All in all Eight Women is groovy, clever and another success for McIntyre.
Eyebrows would raise at the thought of any other non-Paul Taylor troupe attempting Runes, but Parsons has the muscle and guts to do it, and they do it well.
Runes is one of Taylor’s elemental works, meant to evoke the primacy of humanity, our animalistic tendencies in lust and survival and our connection to the rhythms of the earth and cosmos. The costumes – nude unitards for the women, nude legs and topless chests for the men (with brown fur shrugs) – channel our inner (or outward) caveman. Their bodies are at once superhuman and earthy, but there is also an insect-like aesthetic that is carried throughout. The backdrop is dark except for a moon that moves slowly as the dance progresses. The ritualistic tone of Runes – which opens with what could easily be a human sacrifice or funeral – is a reminder of a time when rites were created and spells were conjured from a keen observance of nature, and the inevitable cycles of life.
When one stops to think about it, sitting side by side in row after row of seats, inside a small theater, tucked in a corner of a vast, densely populated city, it is fascinating how little our bodies (and its cravings) have changed, yet how far removed humans are from this world. Taylor never did things by halves, and Runes is a slap in the face to modernity, as if to say to the audience for all your blazers and bank accounts this is who you really are, deal with it or be damned.
In Runes women are held aloft and paraded around like sacred sculptures. They are monumental. They are unwavering in presence and power. A man holds two women aloft at once: one seated on one shoulder, the other wrapped around his hips, as he walks them across the stage. The audience gasps at his strength. The score, composed by Gerald Busby, is piano-heavy, tenacious and pulsating with little respite, making us conscious of the limited time we have with the rising full moon. Of the male dancers, Henry Steele and Joan Rodriguez danced with the most conviction. Rodriguez, in his knotty pas de deux with Deidre Rogan, springs from nowhere to an outrageous height, his legs split and torso hunched over, in an exemplary display of machismo (his quasi-mohawk was a bonus). Rogan was not to be toyed with, demonstrating her own strengths by somersaulting with him, and sitting on top of him after a muscly exchange. Parsons’ audience took the subversion of traditional gender roles with more humor and whimsy than the last time I saw this work, at Lincoln Center, laughing at Rogan’s self-satisfied sense of triumph. Katie Garcia performed a buzzing, insect-like solo which suited her serious sensibilities. Runes is a great vehicle for Parsons’ women who inhabited their roles more strongly than the men, most of whom needed more strength in the ports de bra. While partnering was well-executed, arms and limbs occasionally felt limp and Taylor needs to be danced from the sinews out.
The evening was framed by David Parsons works, opening with 2012’s Round My World. Garcia was my favorite in this, who was perhaps outshone by her colleagues’ more gregarious sensibilities. Garcia added a grace and finesse to it that was otherwise lacking in the company’s traditional efforts towards showmanship – her fellow dancers could take a cue from her on certain pieces less suited to bravura. The crowd-pleaser Caught was performed by Zoey Anderson (it will alternatingly be performed by Henry Steele). I have only seen Anderson in this and she is good. A series of leaps are performed in alternating flashes of strobe lights, so it appears as if the dancer is floating in space – the stage is dark when her feet hit the ground. It’s a clever bit of theatrical trickery and punishing cardio, and the crowd always loves it. The breezy Nascimento closed the evening. Set to specially commissioned music by Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento, women are clothed in Santo Loquasto’s summer dresses and the men in Company B-like trousers and short sleeved shirts. Steele opened the work with some bossa hip action which he clearly enjoyed. On a rainy night in mid-May in New York, Nascimento was a nice bit of escapism. A pleasant romp through some exceptional music you won’t hear anywhere else.