For most modern dance artists, accessibility is a dirty word.
Not so for David Parsons.
The New York City-based choreographer is unapologetic about making work that’s popular, and his company, Parsons Dance, has grown to become one of the biggest names in the American modern dance world. Parsons himself started out as a lead dancer with the legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company, and went on to found his company in 1985. Since then, he has created no less than 70 original works, six of which the company brings to the Lobero Theatre this weekend. Parsons spoke to me on the phone from New York last week.
Tell me a little bit about the program you’re bringing to Santa Barbara. The program starts with “Closure.” I was watching the Olympics one year, and I said, “I want the audience to feel power at that kind of standard, like Olympians.” Well, my dancers have that. One of the ideas was to see how fast the human body can move.
Next is “Hand Dance.” It’s set to a very old American jazz tune. I shutter off the lights so all you see is arms and hands. The company’s second home is Italy-we’ve been touring there 22 years-and I got the idea for this dance from how Italians use their hands. It’s very theatrical, very funny.
Then there’s “Nascimento Novo.” When we were in Brazil, in Rio, and we met the musician Milton Nascimento- who’s a national treasure there-he loved the company so much he composed a piece for me as a gift, and I named it “Nascimento” after him. Then we worked together again, and the result was “Nascimento Novo,” which is my view of the beauty, the music, and the color of Brazil.
After intermission, there are three more pieces: “Kind of Blue,” which is a structured improv set to the music of Miles Davis, and then “Caught,” where the light flashes at one-ten-thousandth of a second so you never see the dancer hit the ground. It’s like rock and roll-people just freak. The last work on the program is “In the End,” which is slightly politically tinged. Dave Matthews let me pick anything I wanted out of his catalog, and we put together this piece.
Part of your company’s mission is to make modern dance accessible to a wide audience-a controversial concept in the arts. Tell me what it means to you. I don’t have a problem with accessibility. We have enough serious dance companies on the planet. To tell you the truth, I can’t do anything else. It’s who I am. I really love connecting with an audience. Part of that is being accessible to them, being able to communicate. We often use pop music; we like really connecting with today’s scene. People really give me shit for the accessibility thing, and I stand by who I am. You have to do that. The reality is: We’re working.
How has Paul Taylor influenced you as an artist? Paul was a great inspiration for me. I joined him when I was 17 years old, and I was with him for eight years. He’s the real thing; he’s a real artist, and he showed me that variety is the spice of life.
What are you most proud of having achieved? I think there are a couple things. One, and this may be interesting to people, is that I’m proud that I give people work-that I give artists work-because that’s so important and so satisfying. Lighting designers, costumers, dancers, administrators : We’re part of the economy. Artistically, it’s just the next project.
Looking back on your career, is there anything you’d change? Oh, there’s a lot of stuff. There’s so much I would have changed. I wouldn’t have turned down the Broadway show Dirty Dancing because I would have been a millionaire. The writer begged me to do it. Now there are five different Dirty Dancing productions traveling around the world. That’s something that hurts.
Parsons Dance will perform at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, May 2, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com. For more information on the company, visit parsonsdance.org.