Parsons Dance Company | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Parsons Dance Company 

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David Parsons--who founded his company in 1987 with lighting designer Howell Binkley--said in a televised interview, "I find light fantastic in its communication--its warmth, its speed." And perhaps Parsons's most famous dance is the solo Caught, in which strobe lights make the performer appear to fly, catching him or her at the apex of every leap. In the same interview Parsons talked about The Envelope (a 1986 piece regularly performed here by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), saying that its source lay in "what we touch." Here the central object--a folded and glued bit of paper--may be ordinary, but as it gets traded from dancer to dancer it takes on mysterious import, especially given the hyperbolic score of Rossini overtures. It sounds as if Parsons's 2002 Too Many Cooks! runs in the same humorous vein: one reviewer described it as "a campy, slapstick piece [using] giant whisks and ladles as weapons." A source of concern for serious dance fans, however, is the way that lighting tricks and props can approach smoke and mirrors: New York magazine critic Tobi Tobias has called Parsons's work gimmicky, adding that he's "(in)famously said he's out to give audiences what they want. Hardly the most pure or focused of artistic goals, it is certainly fulfilled." (I myself have enjoyed performances of Caught and The Envelope on programs that included very dissimilar works by other choreographers, but an evening of mostly Parsons might be different.) Returning here after a five-year absence, the company presents Caught plus five Chicago premieres, four of them by Parsons: Too Many Cooks!; Rise and Fall, set to music by the Turtle Island String Quartet; Slow Dance, in which three couples are squished into a 12-by-12-foot square of light; and Swing Shift, created to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The fifth work is company member Robert Battle's Takademe, a solo influenced by African dance and set to the spoken-word music of Sheila Chandra. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300. Saturday, March 20, 8 PM. $42.

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