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Parsons Dance Company Keeps Things Hopping – Even After 30 Years
by Danielle Georgiou 24 Apr 2015

Thirty years on, David Parsons is still putting together touring dance programs that are challenging, life-enriching, crowd-pleasing. We ask him where he keeps the magic wand.

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Parsons Dance Company returns to Dallas with a program that proves why it’s one of the longest-running and most stable in the dance world. On the heels of the announcement that the popular Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is closing its doors, it’s uplifting to see this company celebrate 30 years of work — and look forward to the future.

On Saturday evening, the company will present a varied program, and it’s one reason the organization has flourished: Artistic director David Parsons likes to take his audience on an emotional roller coaster, with twists and turns at every corner, keeping you on the edge of your seat.


Bachiana is a look at Baroque traditions with a contemporary twist set to music by Bach. Hymn, choreographed by Trey McIntyre, is a lyrical duet set to music by the “sister group,” CocoRosie, known for their “freak folk” music, combining elements of pop, electronica and cabaret. It can be danced either by a female or male couple — in Dallas, Sarah Braverman and Elena D’Amario will dance it. The piece was commissioned by the DRA for the 2007 Fire Island Gala and has been re-staged on Parsons Dance for the 2014-2015 season. Train is a ritualistic, percussive piece choreographed by former Parsons dancer and current Alvin Ailey artistic director Robert Battle that illustrates the power and athleticism of the dancers.

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Photo: Krista Bonura

But the night will begin with Within, created by Texas native and former Parsons dancer Natalie Lomonte. It’s the first product of Parsons’ new GenerationNOW Choreography Fellowship project. The project aims to give one emerging American choreographer the opportunity to create a new work for the company that will be performed throughout its season. Whirlway is a collaboration with celebrated musician-producer-composer Allen Toussaint and is Parsons’ most recent work. And of course, Caught will be staged. One of Parsons very first works and a crowd favorite, the dance give us wings and take us on a flight. (Note that a strobe light will be used during this piece, in case you have a light sensitivity.)

Just a few days before his company comes to the Winspear Opera House, I caught up with founder David Parsons to learn a bit more about the troupe, Parsons’ creative journey — and about their Texas connection.

How did you first find your way into dance?

DPThrough a trampoline, actually. I studied gymnastics, and trampoline was my specialty. And you can see it in my work today, in pieces like Caught, which has 100 jumps in 5 minutes. [At the age of 17], I received a scholarship at the Alvin Ailey Studio in New York City and picked up and moved from my hometown in Kansas City.

When did the transition from dancer to choreographer begin for you?

DP: My first pieces were done on a trampoline at a summer arts camp, and that’s where I caught the bug to choreograph. After two years in the Taylor Company, I started producing work with a small group of dancers, and did so for the next six years in the summers at the Dance Theater Workshop. Some of those works are still in the repertory today, like Brothers, Caught, Scrutiny, and Envelope.[/interview_answer]

What was your motivation to start your own dance company?

DPAfter six years of producing my works in the summer, people started to ask, “When is your company performing next . . . ?” That’s when I knew it was actually time to tour as a company.

Parsons Dance is one of the longest-operating dance companies in the U.S. How do you keep interest in the company alive, and how do you maintain a stable environment for your organization?

DPThe company is my primary interest, and it’s wonderful to have this stable platform to produce my work. Having a dance company is always evolving — collaborating with different designers, musicians, new dancers and traveling the world. Maintaining a stable business model that can span decades is an enormous challenge in the arts. I am lucky to have a very strong board — some have been with me since the beginning! As times change, the company has evolved its programming in order to balance touring with outreach and education programs that extend our reach. This past year, we launched intensives in my hometown of Kansas City as well as in Milan, Italy. We have a new program at PS75, a public school in Manhattan, working with kindergarteners and third graders on the autism spectrum. Additionally, it’s important to create and curate exciting work that all audiences can enjoy.
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Photo: Paula Lobo

How has the mission for Parsons evolved over the years, and where do you see the group going in the future?

DPIt is the mission of Parsons Dance to deliver positive, affirming and life-enriching experiences to audiences worldwide, through dance and movement. Personally, my mission is to make sure that the audience never forgets seeing my company! In honor of our thirty years, we have expanded the mission. We are dancing not only my work but also the work of my colleagues and young choreographers. I have always found it important to support emerging choreographers, and produced some of the first works of our former company dancers Robert Battle and Kate Skarpetowska. Robert is now the Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey. Isn’t it funny how everything comes full circle? I see Parsons Dance expanding, and the next generation of dancers and choreographer flourishing, and I am into it. Last year, I started the GenerationNOW Choreography Fellowship to formalize this initiative. The first piece just premiered at the Joyce in our New York season, and you’ll also get to see it Saturday night in Dallas.

What makes a Parsons dancer?

DPA Parsons Dancer is incredibly powerful, athletic, superhuman, filled with passion. I look for a certain special quality, a spark that is present both on and off the stage. And of course, they must be an amazing dancer and performer.

Your company often comes to Dallas to perform. Are you excited to come back? And how do you find Dallas and its audience?

DPWe have been to Dallas many, many times at the McFarlin Auditorium [at Southern Methodist University], and we are so thankful to TITAS for bringing us down. And now, we get to play at the Winspear Opera House for the first time. And we could not be more excited about being at this beautiful new arts center! Congratulations to Dallas on making this happen! We love Texas!
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