There is much to admire in a collaborative artistic endeavor that shows dynamism, imagination, and promise while flexing enough muscle to create enchantment for now. New York's Parsons Dance and Drexel University's ExCITe Center treated the NextMove Dance audience at the Prince Theater on Wednesday evening to the world premiere of The Machines, subtitled "Dancing with Drones."
David Parsons helms his 32-year-old company of eight and never shies away from technology, illusion, allusion, and collaboration. This six-piece program sampled all of that. His famous 1982 Caught, in which a solo dancer leaps more than 100 times in six minutes while caught each time in mid-motion by the strobe lights, creates the illusion of flight. I've seen it seven times, the first in Scottsdale in 1993 with Parsons performing, and even with a woman, Sumayah McRae, with stunning hair flying. It never fails to shock and awe. Here, the six-pack-torsoed Ian Spring did a fantastic job once strobe and dancer synced. Here is a video of clips from Caught:
It was harder to synchronize the six dancers of The Machines with the two drones created by Drexel students under the direction of Youngmoo Kim. A year and a half in the making, there were to have been six, but at the interval, Kim and Parsons discussed some of the difficulties of tackling the tech of the drones indoors and assured us the piece would continue to evolve. Set to John Mackey's music, the piece begins with three couples crouching on all fours, with the drones hovering above. Finally upright, the dancers jutted arms out from elbows spiking into their waists, rolled fist over fist, and ended in clean, Bauhaus bends -- very architectural. Sarah Braverman approaches one of the drones as though to dance with it, creating a magnetic field of movement between them. You could almost believe the drone was a responsive, living creature. Here is a video of clips from The Machines:
A Philadelphia premiere, 2015's Finding Center, is one of Parson's prettiest and sexiest ballets. In it, the men are the supporting core for the women in a series of intricate and original lifts and spins that weave a spell of unity between them, as though they are twin strands of DNA finding how they connect.
Almah (2015), another Philadelphia premiere, by former Parsons member Katarzyna Skarpetowska, had Ljova's wild, folksy, at times klezmerlike music with dancing to match, especially in Spring and Geena Pacareu's duet.
Hand Dance is always fun to see. That's all you see -- hands of black-clad dancers that morph from schools of fish to flocks of geese and a multiplicity of other images. We needed the lighthearted In the End, to snips of the Dave Matthews Band, to uplift our spirits, and the entire company did the job.