The Bang Group Gala
SNAP • CRACKLE • BANG!
Please join us to support our exciting new dance exchange
Dance Now | Boston
An evening to benefit The Bang Group
Inspired by the supper clubs of yore, the program will allow diverse Boston dance artists to be commissioned to create exciting new work for our city's cabaret stages. David Parker himself has created 3 evening length works through Dance Now|NYC and found himself invigorated and transformed by creating sophisticated dance for these relaxed settings which are primarily associated with food, drink and entertainment
The evening will also feature the presentation of the first Robert B. and Joan H. Parker Compassionate Action Award to social justice activist, Stanley N. Griffith. Stan Griffith has been a champion for civil and LGBTQ rights, fair and affordable housing and all efforts that raise up the human spirit. Joan and Bob Parker loved and admired him for his steadfast commitment to our greater good.
Joining The Bang Group for this special evening will be performances by Boston choreographers Ian Berg, Jimena Bermejo, Carey MacKinley and McKersin Previlus alongside New York company LMnO3 (Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis and Donnell Oakley)
Please join us
Saturday, June 17, 2017
6:30 pm - Sponsor Reception & Dinner
7:00 pm - General Reception
8:00 pm - Performance, Award Presentation & Dessert
FOR SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES / MORE INFORMATION / TICKETS, CLICK HERE
February 11, 2017
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Thank you to everyone who made this event such a tremendously exciting and successful event. Want to see what you missed? click here
October 28, 2015
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by David Parker
In 2006, I arranged a song-and-dance number for Jeffrey Kazin and myself to perform at my parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration held at the Taj Hotel Rooftop in Boston. For me, the Taj will always remain the Ritz as it was for most of my life and, for this occasion, I would be puttin' it on. I chose Irving Berlin's intricate and witty contrapuntal duet called "Old Fashioned Wedding" written for the 1966 revival of "Annie Get Your Gun." Jeff and I sang it and then did a tap routine in which we portrayed a pair pledged and promised but ambivalent about the nature of our nuptials. In 2006, Massachusetts was the only state in god's country to have achieved marriage equality. This gave our performance a certain piquancy as well as a measure of poignancy. We seemed to have skidded on our taps into a zeitgeist moment. This was the beginning of the marriage equality tsunami which has since swept through the entire northeast and beyond. Catching the wave, Jeff and I performed this again at my company's benefit in New York the following winter and, in a twist worthy of a musical, Robin Staff, the visionary producer of the series of dance-cabaret-musicals which began with Doug Elkins' "Fraulein Maria" was there as a guest. She was searching for a second show to follow Fraulein at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. I had been dancing in Fraulein Maria as Liesl and I leapt at the idea of making a show of my own. The kind of electricity that I felt performing a legitimate dance show in a cabaret was less easy to find in the soberer spaces of the avant-garde where I often toiled and spun. Thus was "ShowDown" conceived. I began with alacrity. I made a tantalizing distillation for Groundworks Dance Theater of Cleveland called "Annie Redux" which seemed to land in just the right way and then I transferred and expanded that into a somewhat too--loose version that I did in Boston as part of First Night 2008. At this point, the whole thing hit a snag.
I did an interview with The Boston Globe about it. I was immediately contacted by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization because I had failed to ask their permission. They owned the rights to the show and, of course, to the Sound of Music, so they had actually seen me as Liesl when seeing the show in order to extend their permission to Doug Elkins. I was really quite stupid not to have sought performance rights. The Rodgers and Hammerstein organization handled this issue with extraordinary grace and generosity and, as it became clear that I was making this show out of my love for the material, granted their permission for me to continue. This was an enormous relief, because I was passionate about this project.
I saw in "Annie Get Your Gun" a classic show in which gender roles were still available for examination. A show in which the collision between romance and ambition was articulated against a background of the ramshackle allure of show business. As a middle-aged artist, I felt at one with these themes. The score is full of famous highlights-"There's No Business Like Show Business", "Anything You Can Do", "They Say It's Wonderful", "Doin' What Comes Naturally" and so forth, but their original context is less well-known. I had therefore, great freedom.
I would have been devastated if I'd not been permitted to work with this score and I've learned to be very scrupulous about the matter of rights and permission. My own ignorance brought me close to losing this opportunity. It is thus without the slightest hesitation, that we pay a modest fee for the right and privilege to perform this work each time we do it. My position was not common among people petitioning to use the score. I was not, per se, doing a production of "Annie Get Your Gun" (like a regional theater or Broadway revival) but was doing a kind of parallel work in another medium. I didn't use the whole score and we sang but one song. I used the music as a platform for choreography, as a point of departure. Although I worked with its rhythms and images very deliberately, I was, at first, confused about which version to use. I chose the unused recordings of the score made for the 1949 MGM movie by Judy Garland and Howard Keel because they are so beautiful and because neither Ethel Merman nor Betty Hutton is easy to listen to while watching dancing. Judy Garland's limpid renditions of the songs opened up possibilities and spaces in the score that I was able to negotiate and which were genial to my purposes. I felt that Judy became my friend during this process and, it must be said, I was already a good friend of Dorothy's.
"ShowDown" opened at Joe's Pub in 2008 to considerable enthusiasm and did an encore season the following year, it has been touring ever since and is one of my most beloved works even returning again to Joe's Pub last season. I followed up with two more cabaret oriented shows commissioned by DanceNow/NYC through Robin Staff. The second of which will premiere in February 2014. Having been involved in Fraulein as well as my own three shows (I also did a cameo in the first run of Nicholas Leichter's The Whiz which was third in this series) I came to see these modern-dance-musicals as an aesthetic movement which has astonishing implications for us all. We're not making commercial work, but we are making work which openly accepts the responsibility of communication. We perform in a celebratory environment. There is no dissonance or ambivalence about our purpose which is to work vividly with dance as a way to get to the heart of the kind of transcendence that musicals have, at their best, offered. For me, this is a return to my essence. As a youth, I watched musicals with the devotion of a seminary student pouring over the gospels. The truths contained therein may be ethereal but they are no less potent for it. They have to do with the sudden projection of imagination, through song and dance, into an otherwise quotidian environment thereby endowing it with splendor.
Throughout my career I've made a series of a capella dances in which the dancing itself makes the score. I've done this through body percussion, singing, speaking, vocalese, barefoot hoofing, actual tapping, percussive pointe work and even through the ripping and smacking of Velcro. That means, of course, that I compose the scores. These are largely metrical/percussive scores but I have also been exploring the use of a non-metrical form by tap dancing in Morse Code. In "ShowDown", Jeff and I tap out wedding vows in Morse Code. I've made a entire footwork equivalent of the Morse Code alphabet which is highly rhythmic but, of course, based in language and not music. When I work with music, though I may know it somewhat as I did with Irving Berlin's score, I still do not use it in rehearsal until I've established-composed, really-a strong rhythmic character in the choreography. Therefore I work with the dancers for a long time in silence until our rhythms are strong enough to stand up to the score. "ShowDown" is primarily about partnering both in the actual physical sense of people lifting and holding each other and in the temporal sense of contrapuntal sharing of rhythm. I take this to the level of the relationship between dance and music as well. They banter and spar, neither yielding all the way to the other. No quarter is given but the weight is shared.
I have been inspired and delighted by the works made by several New York artists for the DanceNow/NYC series and I want to bring this phenomenon to the Boston area. Therefore, in partnership with DanceNow/NYC, I am presenting a cabaret/dance series at Oberon in Harvard Square during the month of March which will culminate in commissions by three Boston choreographers. This happens on three consecutive Friday nights. The first two will feature The Bang Group's newest dance/cabaret and the third week will feature "ShowDown" along with commissioned work by three Boston choreographers: Lorraine Chapman, Kelli Edwards and Nicole Pierce. These ladies are ideal choices for this endeavor as they have all shown their savvy with regard to musicals and they are all fine artists whom I respect and admire. They have also all been guest artists in "Nut/Cracked", but that's a story for some snowy night by the fire. Until then, I look forward to seeing you, constant reader, in March at Oberon.
November 20, 2013
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Hard Act To Follow
A Hard Act to Follow
by David Parker
My eighty-year-old mother died on June 12, 2013 after a nearly two-year struggle with lung cancer. As most readers of this blog already know, she was among Boston's most loved and celebrated philanthropists. Her fund-raising efforts gave sustenance to gay-related charities like Community Servings and PFLAG as well as to numerous dance and theater organizations. Though she'd never pursued a stage career, she was an inspired and indefatigable gala performer who, at the age of 79, was memorably hoisted by harness to the top of the Big Apple Circus tent as an embodiment of rising donations. Her speeches revealed a bawdy tongue with a pronounced preference for the F-word which she deployed to foil her meticulously flamboyant appearance--equal parts Chita Rivera and Brooke Astor. She had fantastic comic timing, inserting a puff of air after the "f" in fuck, drawing it out to maximize the shock factor and yet lend it a Lady Bracknell flourish. This public personality was arrived at sous vide. Mum lived in Massachusetts her entire life and was raised to be an haute bourgeois matron. That both did and didn't work out; she became an haute bourgeois matron and hated it. She spent her housewife years in quiet (and, okay, occasionally noisy) desperation. Wanting more "meaning", she went to graduate school in the sixties, taught college for a while, and later worked in educational administration for the state. She and my father tried writing screenplays together but it was not her calling. Nothing seemed to match her peculiar gifts. It wasn't until she was in her sixties that she discovered the joys and exigencies of philanthropy. This happened serendipitously when she arranged a performance event for my then-fledgling dance company to benefit Community Servings which was a charity she'd recently discovered. Her creativity was at once ignited. Suddenly she opened up arteries of communicationand community throughout the Boston area, mixing and matching people from all areas of her life and cultivating scores of new friendships and alliances. She was always fiercely loyal, retaining the social contacts she'd made in her teens but also makingnew and often decades-younger friends with alacrity. She was at last in her element and from there she built an empire.
Right after she died, Karen Krolak, who is no stranger to the loss of parents, wrote to me to tell of a conversation she had with my mother. She asked her how she chose whom to support. My mother offered a weighty pause and then replied slowly. "Everything has to connect back to my sons." And so it did. She had found a way to integrate her talents with her vision for the best life possible for my brother and me. Because we're both gay she wanted our culture to evolve to embrace various orientations so she supported Community Servings and PFLAG, because I'm a choreographer, she supported dance organizations, because my brother Dan is an actor, she supported theater groups. There was no hesitation here, her values were firm. Local politicians sought her endorsement but they got her imprimatur only if they declared their support for marriage equality. Ten years ago this was less readily done by Massachusetts legislators and if they hedged she would not support them. She was very basic about this and I admired her enormously for it.
Gradually I began to address this in my own artistic work, asking myself if my work had in it the things that matter most to me. I wanted to be able to look at my life and my work as my mother did. I wanted to see a through-line. More and more I took this on. I believe that different kinds of dance, like different kinds of people, can come together without hierarchy. That they can find underlying common ground. I think tap dance can be experimental and experimental dance can be entertaining. I detest aesthetic bigotry and the notion that a category of art is superior to another category of art. I reject false dichotomies like gay/straight, male/female, high art/low art, art/entertainment, sex/romance, form/content. I insist on the absolute equality of different kinds of love and I am convinced that, on the deepest level, we can respond romantically and sexually to people beyond the limits of gender (this is not a rejection of orientation, it's an addition to it.) I realized that I needn't convince anyone of these things, I merely need to generate work that deals with them and in ways that are, for lack of a better word, true.
I've written and spoken a great deal about my father's influence on my work: his probity, his discipline, his legitimization of a disreputable genre, his comic agility. All these formed my understanding of what it is to make art. But I hadn't been as conscious of my mother's influence on me and my work until she died and Karen told me of their conversation. I now see how holistic her view of living was and how much that shaped me and transformed me.
I teach dance composition at The Juilliard School, Barnard College and The Alvin Ailey School. One of the things to which I am committed is the teaching of choreographic craft as a strategy for opening a channel to each student's passion. It doesn't matter what it is, it matters that their creativity ignites when they approach it. It can be toe-dancing, show dancing, no dancing, autobiographical dancing, dancey-dancing, mathematical dancing, pedestrian dancing--anything. Just let me give them the way to get there and the tools to build with. In the final analysis, that's what Mum gave me. I shall be forever in her debt.November 16, 2013
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DAVID PARKER NAMED 2013 GUGGENHEIM FELLOW
It is with the utmost excitement that The Bang Group announces that David Parker has been awarded a Fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Mr. Parker is in the fine company of his fellow Fellows Brian Brooks, Luciana Achugar, Claire Porter and Faye Driscoll in the category of Choreography.
In its eighty-ninth annual competition for the United States and Canada, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded Fellowships to a diverse group of 175 scholars, artists, and scientists. Appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, the Fellows were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. In all, 56 disciplines, 85 different academic institutions, 30 states and 3 Canadian provinces are represented by this year's Fellows who range in age from 30 to 76. 35 Fellows have no academic affiliation or hold adjunct or part-time positions at universities.
Edward Hirsch, president of the Foundation, stated, "It's exciting to name 175 new Guggenheim Fellows. These artists and writers, scholars and scientists represent the best of the best. Since 1925 the Guggenheim Foundation has always bet everything on the individual, and we're thrilled to continue the tradition with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It's an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant do."
For more information on the complete list of 2013 Fellows and their projects, please visit the Foundation's website at www.gf.org
April 23, 2013
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September 2, 2011
by David Parker
This month, Danspace Project commissioned a full evening of tap—the first ever in its 37-year history.
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards by Eduardo Patino.
It featured the work of Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards in the reverberant sanctuary of Saint Mark’s Church, and was curated by me under the rubric “Rhythm and Humor,” part of the Platform series initiated by Danspace’s visionary director, Judy Hussie-Taylor. It has been a long-held dream of mine to see tap at Danspace. I integrate tap in my own artistic work and I wanted to do the same as curator.
About a year ago, when I was putting together this evening, I thought of my early years in New York’s “downtown” dance world.
Programming was much more anarchic then; we hadn’t grown so sclerotic about genres and forms and which methods of experimentation are acceptable. Maybe we lost our sense of play when somatic work took the place of training in dance classes with music, maybe when we began to envy Western European conceptual work without really feeling an internal urgency about making it, maybe the end of the dance boom brought about a willful disengagement with the public, an almost churlish and petulant refusal to consider things outside a certain view of experimentation. Maybe because tap is a tradition, it’s marginalized by downtown dance folk.
The word “contemporary” didn’t exclude tap then and shouldn’t now.
So I sought out Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Dormeshia is sui generis, a masterful technician who has gleefully introduced high heeled tap shoes as an option for women (and I might add, for men). For years they’d been rejected as a sexist artifact which put female tappers at a technical disadvantage. But Dormeshia’s technique is so pointed, so finely cut, no high heel could dull its edge. Beyond this particular heresy, Dormeshia is glamorous and earthy and has been at the forefront of tap’s renaissance over the last 15 years. She was also a mentor to Michelle Dorrance.
Michelle is a real choreographer—I’m not modifying that term with the word “tap.” She is not only interested in foot rhythms. She also cares about shape, space, the arrangement of visual information, and unusually for a tap dancer, silence—not as an absence but as a structural element.
Many tap dancers use silence to create space or suspension in their work. Michelle goes further. She has set a whole piece for dancers without tap shoes and she can make silence as much a touchstone as taps in her work. Her segment began with a group of dancers in a ghostly, almost lunar sliding dance performed in socks against the gleaming floor of the church which surrounded the smaller tap floor set up for the shod-hoofing. This culminated in a cagey and ruminative tap solo right on the altar. It was heart stopping.
Seeing the tap show helped me see other things, too. I was much more attentive to how Aynsley Vandenbroucke, another artist in my series, dealt with rhythm in her stepless, nearly movement-free piece last weekend. The information and ideas she uses are exquisitely choreographed and quite poetic but, because I’d seen the tap show, I was able to view the segment wherein Aynsley and Brian Rogers typed out a gentle argument onto large computer screens as something akin to a highly syncopated tap duet, much like the one in Michelle’s show danced by Ryan Casey and Elena Steponaitis. Their ratcheting tap clusters had the same bite and grace as Aynsley and Brian’s overlapping dialogue. Rhythm speaks in many ways.
I’m reminded of a line from the movie The Bandwagon: “There is no difference between the magic rhythms of Bill Shakespeare’s immortal verse and the magic rhythms of Bill Robinson’s immortal feet.” Jack Buchanan said this while playing an avant-garde theater director.
He would know; Jack Buchanan was a tap dancer.
About the Author
DAVID PARKER is a choreographer and hoofer. In addition, he has lately been writing for Dance Magazine and curating for Danspace, the 92nd Street Y and his own space, the West End Theater, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. His newest show, Misters and Sisters, will open at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in June.
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Why I Choreograph
Parker is on the faculty of The Ailey School and Barnard College and has written several stories for Dance Magazine. Last fall, Dance Theater Workshop honored Parker for his contribution to DTW. His newest show, Misters and Sisters, will have its New York premiere at Joe’s Pub in NYC in June.
Wendy Perron, Editor In Chief, Dance Magazine
I choreograph because I know of no other way to contend with the world. For me, choreographing functions a little like Temple Grandin’s “squeeze box.” This wonder, also called a “hug machine,” was invented by Ms. Grandin, who is autistic, after she observed the calming effect such a contraption had on cattle under duress. So, as with the cow before slaughter, choreography allows me to face what lies ahead.
I grew up in a hyperarticulate family, my father being a best-selling author with a Ph.D. in English literature and my mother a professor of early childhood with a passion for socializing. I was mistrustful of words and was a solemn, awkward child with few friends—at least, few corporeal friends. I had a plethora of Pirates, Princes, and Cavaliers with whom I danced in my room behind closed doors, feeling like a singular sensation.
I began dancing formally when I was 16, starting with tap because I had fallen in love with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. While Mother Nature had permitted Fred Astaire and not me to dance like Fred Astaire, she had still given me a good pair of eyes and a mind eager to decipher the rhythms he threw down. It wasn’t only that I longed to dance like him, but I longed to organize everything I knew into beats and steps as he did.
When I went to college, a high school sissy with a flair for 1930s slang and a spiffy pair of tap shoes, I declared myself a dance major and plunged into a study of modern dance. I didn’t find the humor and juice of the dances I cherished from the movies. But I loved the strapping hauteur of the Merce Cunningham technique, the springy nobility of the Limón technique, and the tart bounce of Nikolais. Plus I got to go to New York to see performances.
There I saw Twyla Tharp’s The Fugue, and something exploded in my head. Here was a fully modern, streamlined, pared-down, Pan-Am kind of a dance for three men (originally women) and it made the going great. I thought it a real tap dance (performed in heeled shoes on a miked stage), just without any actual tap steps. It was perversely intricate, louche, and lofty at once. I knew then what I wanted to do.
I grew up and made a series of a capella dances in which the music was made by the dancing itself. These dances featured Velcro costumes, toe-tap shoes, bubble wrap, whistling, harmonicas, singing, actual hoofing, and smacking and clapping. One of them, called Bang, which gave my company its name, featured the unadorned body thuds of two men lying on the floor together and culminated in some syncopated kissing. Audiences found it funny. I found it poignant. I saw it as a love story about men fitting themselves together, sharing a beat, kissing in 5/4 time.
These dances taught me about the cadences of intimacy. They helped me choreograph my way in and out of love, friendship, and sadness. My father died last January and I am choreographing a song-and-dance show set to songs he loved. Jeff Kazin, my longterm muse, and I will sing and dance many of them. We’ll be joined by my two other favorite dancers: Amber Sloan and Nic Petry. Choreography is what makes us a family and there is no better reason to keep doing it. I hope never to stop.
Photo: David Parker, center, with Nic Petry and Jeffrey Kazin. © Stephen Schreiber, courtesy The Bang GroupJanuary 4, 2011
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My Secret Passion
As printed in Dance Magazine • June 2009 •
“I’m the greatest star. I am by far, but no one knows it,” sang the shimmering Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, one of many musicals that brightened my boring suburban childhood. I think of this now because I’m a choreographer and I know that dance, at its most authentic, is a popular art form, but nearly no one else knows it. I’m also thinking about it because I’m working on a contemporary dance piece based on a musical. I’ve waited for this my whole life.
As a butterball toddler I “tapped” across my kitchen floor with quarters clutched between my toes while The June Taylor Dancers hoofed on The Jackie Gleason Show. In those days one could see not only Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Gwen Verdon, and Fred Astaire on television variety shows, but also the likes of Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Jacques d’Amboise, Edward Villella, and Patricia McBride. High art and low, brought to you all mixed up by Ed Sullivan, Kraft cheese, and Bell Telephone. There they all were, and then quite suddenly, they went away—or so it seemed.
This was the 1960s, a time of social and aesthetic revolution that, perhaps unintentionally, liberated us from good old musical comedy along with the pageboy and premarital chastity. Apart from late-night showings of antediluvian movies, the only tap dancing on television in my teenage years was found in the polyester precincts of The Lawrence Welk Show.
At 16, feeling the loss of this tradition, I began to study tap with the ferocity of a seminary student poring over the Gospels. I became a devotee of the Astaire–Rogers and Gene Kelly films—especially Singin’ in the Rain, then being rediscovered in revival houses by young cinephiles. I was an autodidact with a Greg Brady haircut. In the time before home video recording I learned to concentrate utterly on what I saw, knowing I had to get it all at once.
In the expansion of each prosaic situation into sublime, syncopated evocations of romance, high spirits, eroticism, and competition, I found my métier. I longed to burst free from the buffoonish suburban culture around me and plunge into these rhapsodic numbers. The men especially captivated. Not conventionally gorgeous (with the exception of Kelly), men like O’Connor and Astaire achieved a ravishing beauty in their dances that was heightened by their glinting, jazz-infused rhythm—it means a lot of things when it’s got that swing. I identified with the thrill Debbie Reynolds must have felt pressed shoulder-to-shoulder between Kelly and O’Connor while tap dancing upside down over a sofa.
It made me giddy but also pointed toward a kind of masculine finesse and breadth of emotion that sports (which I loathed) didn’t offer. It also opened onto a world that didn’t observe quotidian rules of decorum and conformity. Every living room was a set, every sidewalk a stage.
Musicals were democratic, finding art in the common things around us, transforming them as the dances transformed O’Connor and Astaire. Today, the conventional sexual politics of Hollywood’s golden age are much maligned and rightly so. But these entrancing choreographic expressions of love and camaraderie render them moot, or at least beside the point.
When Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor jammed together through “Moses Supposes” in Singin’ in the Rain, friendship, eros, amity, and synchrony curled around each other in one thrilling rush of piston-thighed tapping. They forged their bond through rhythm. This then would become the basis for my work.
Since I began choreographing, I’ve made all manner of rhythmic pieces, from dances in which two men clad in Velcro suits make music by sticking to and ripping apart from each other to others featuring percussive pointe work, bubble-wrap-popping, barefoot hoofing, and actual tap. But what I’d never done before is face up to my musical comedy heritage.
Enter Robin Staff, artistic director of DanceNow/NYC. Staff’s idea was to drop musical comedy themes right into the laps of contemporary choreographers. Like Gene Kelly jumping from the top of a trolley down into Debbie Reynolds’ jalopy, this can be startling. Staff relishes the collision of these genres, and her first match was made in heaven. Fräulein Maria, a rollicking, all-dance reinvention of The Sound of Music, was choreographed by my good friend and esteemed colleague Doug Elkins. In this hilarious and loving show, I have the tremendous good fortune to play Liesl, the eldest Trapp daughter. I am 16 going on 50 but bromidic and bright as a moon-happy night pouring light on the dew. The show has been, to put it mildly, a hit.
Her second commission was for me. She saw Jeff Kazin and me sing and dance a number from Annie Get Your Gun called “Old-Fashioned Wedding” at a party. She found it resonant with our current struggle for marriage equality but in a fresh and comical way. In 2008 she asked me to take on the whole show.
My version, called Show Down, is, like Annie Get Your Gun, about an initiate, a novitiate even, to Show Business. Which is just how I feel. So far, the process of making it has been like coming home, only without the quarters between my toes—now I’ve got the taps.
I asked Staff why she started doing this. Her answer surprised me, for it points well beyond entertainment. “In this time of woe, the world is starting to look to this musical genre again for its richness and ability to transform,” she said. “More than ever, we need a place to escape to these days. We need to recharge beliefs and to strengthen ourselves.”
Making Show Down and dancing in Fräulein Maria has recharged and strengthened me, especially my legs—or in Liesl’s case, gams. And, speaking of legs, both shows seem to have them. They’ll keep playing, hopefully at a theater near you.
David Parker just finished an encore-run of Show Down at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in NYC. Excerpts of Show Down appear at Summer Stages in Concord, MA, on July 23. Fräulein Maria will be at ADF July 13–15 and Jacob’s Pillow Aug. 26–30. His comic, neovaudeville Nutcracker, called Nut/Cracked, will play in repertory with Fräulein Maria at DTW this December.
August 6, 2009
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As printed in Dance Magazine, December 2008 • Harsh words from critics, now and forever a click away on the Internet, can harrow. This seems pretty plain, I know. But, amazingly, I had never really given this much thought until one day last spring when I wanted to put my head in the oven and kill myself because of a wretched review. Until then, I had never placed much stock in reviews and now I found myself unable to defang one of them. Everywhere I went, I felt it snapping at me from all sides like a terrier. What had become of my poise? Baffled and battered, I reviewed my past for answers. I got my first mention in the press when I was 23. Waking before sunrise on a summer morning in 1982, I sprinted to the newsstand on Saint Mark’s Place (modern dancers still lived in the East Village then) and seized a copy of The Village Voice. A blessing was bestowed. Modesty forbids that I repeat it verbatim. But don’t think I couldn’t. My ego ran with it. I shall make my mark on this land, I proclaimed, and shepherds quaked. I tendered my regards to Broadway with remembrances to Herald Square and sauntered home. Well, youth laughed and wept and lived its heedless hour and of course things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned that morning. I did not crack this town open like a walnut. I have made a career, it’s true—a long one and a good one. I have been and remain a dancer, a choreographer, artistic director of my own company and the maker of dances for many other companies both here and abroad. I also perform with other choreographers whom I admire. I love the whole deal. Through all this I’ve enjoyed, on balance, fairly good press. There have been stabs here and there, but no lasting scars. Although I saw friends and colleagues lain low, hurt and buffeted by negative reviews, I didn’t understand their distress. How fragile they are, I thought to myself. Really, some critics are just serving the canine blood lust of their own readers. Some don’t “get it.” Others merely make fools of themselves posing as dictators of taste. The notion of a definitive critical evaluation is simply a fiction. Then one fine day I got slammed and found myself chewing a hunk of self-pity the size of Georgia. Said slam was in response to an evening-length work that was, for me, something of a departure. I had based much of it on a work I made at Juilliard in 2006 for 24 dancers that was a mingling of classical and percussive dance overlaid with a latent romanticism. It delighted me and I wanted to build on it for my New York season presented by Dance Theater Workshop the following spring. This was my sixth season at Dance Theater Workshop and I felt at home. I thought I was pushing a custard pie into the face of my old work by cultivating something more austere, and, like an elusive lover, more remote. Stealthily I concocted the notion that I should be rewarded for my bravery and for my “risk.” Then the other jackboot dropped. No good deed goes unpunished . . . . It’s impossible for me to read a review of my own new work rationally. I don’t even know if that would be desirable. Reading a review is like eavesdropping on only one side of a conversation between members of the audience. But I was uncertain about what I was doing and I longed for some authoritative insight, so I was uncharacteristically vulnerable to pronouncements. Alas, reviews have no real use in actual creative activity. I find, and found again, my own strength in the creative process itself. No one else, critic or peer, can find it for me. This tidy truth does nothing, however to address the sheer pain of the whole thing. Blame is exhausting to deal with. I felt dispatched by a guillotine tongue. After consulting several martinis and a competent therapist (not simultaneously) I began to gain some perspective. A review isn’t a symbol, a harbinger, or an edict. Critics write them as though they were exposing more about themselves than about any artist. I didn’t learn anything from the content of the review. But I learned enormously from my response to it. I found that I don’t actually believe that abstractions and concepts are more meaningful than specific details. I don’t really want to pull back from a work to experience it remotely. I had been seduced by a lot of high-concept work happening in Europe and around me in New York. Much of it inspires me, but it doesn’t truly have to do with my own generative impulses. I found I could remain creatively impertinent without submitting to current pieties. I began to take more pleasure in the world as an aesthetic place, not just in terms of beauty but in terms of degree of artifice or stylization. And I saw that natural and unnatural, masculine and feminine, gay and straight, ballet and hoofing, and art and entertainment are false opposites. In the work I’ve made since, I’ve dug down into my appetites once again. The self-pity has been gnawed down and swallowed. On track, I’m still headed where I was going in 1982—second star to the right and straight on till morning. • David Parker continues to be sanguine about reviews while working with his company, The Bang Group, on his choreographic reinvention of Annie Get Your Gun called ShowDown, which will enjoy an encore run in NYC in June.
November 28, 2008
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Don't You Just Hate It When...
I don’t like dances which are the same all the way through. It’s a widespread phenomenon and I don’t know why it’s not more often discussed. Some dances start off fierce and flinging and stay that way for their duration. Even a brownie with nuts has various textures throughout and takes a lot less time to eat. I saw one not long ago (a dance, not a brownie) in which a rather large number of people hurled themselves upon each other and the floor in fairly athletic ways for around 20 minutes. That was it. They did this at more or less the same pitch and speed throughout. The basic variables in the work stayed in the same proportion to one another the entire way through. The tenth minute was virtually identical to the 17th and to the intervening 6. While it may be hard to organize such activity for 20 minutes running I don’t know that one should try.
Another thing I don’t like is the tendency of some critics to make final, forceful declarations about quality. “Not a major ballet by any standard”, “froth but nothing more”, “masterpiece”, “drivel”, “classic”, “dud”---“this wine is bad”, “these Doritos are stale”, “off with their heads!”. It’s the kind of thing business folk on expense accounts say to impress their companions with their connoisseurship (well, maybe not the Doritos thing). But does this impress? It’s as if dances are being inserted into some imaginary canon and catalogued for the library of congress. On the other hand, I liked Claudia LaRocco’s statement at the end of a review of Katie Workum, Will Rawls and the Labor Union at Dance Theater Workshop where she said something like “art is better off being interesting than sensible”. Katie’s and Will’s work as very lively, very detailed, very tasty, not very sensible and…not a major ballet by any standard. I enjoyed it very much. Give me liberty or give me death. A stitch in time saves nine. You get more bees with honey than with…
February 14, 2007
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My Favorite Dancer
"This slavery to the moment is far more tyrannous than any other constructions I can think of. The artist ceases to ask the personal question 'what is right for me to do?' and asks instead, 'what is right for 1971?'." W.H. Auden interviewed in the New York Times in 1971 I now have a blog. I've sweated over my opening blog entry and cast about for something I thought would be worthy. I decided to write about my favorite dancer. There isn't really anything more important than that, ultimately. This is a dancer who has devloped over time and made his mark for a number of years. In a fast-food culture which erases as fast as it rewards, a dancer that can deepen and ripen over decades is a rare thing. I have a lot of favorite dancers. I began loving Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (in that order)and Debbie Reynolds (of course), Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, The Nicholas Brothers, John Bubbles, Gregory Hines, Paul Draper, Donald O'Connor and Ann Miller (in no particular order). I love the great English dramatic classicists from the sixties and seventies--Lynn Seymour, Antony Dowell, David Wall, Antoinette Sibley, Monica Mason, Christopher Gable and their predecessors Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Michael Somes, Moira Shearer and Svetlana Beriosova. I loved the modern dancers I saw onstage when I first came to New York in eighties--Rob Besserer, Tere O'Connor (yes, as a dancer with Rosalind Newman and in his own work of the time), Ruth Davidson, Penny Hutchinson, Kate Johnson, Ken Tosti, Robert Kovich, Erin Thompson, Shelley Washington, Tom Rawe, Jennifer Way, Richard Colton, Amy Spencer, Alan Good, Christopher Batenhorst, Sara Rudner and on and on. But my absolute favorite dancer is Jeffrey Kazin. This works out especially well for me since he dances in my company and has been my muse for over 16 years. Like other great dancers he melds paradoxes: luxuriant and urgent, innocent and erotic, formal and intimate, commanding and vulnerable, raw and impeccable, freewheeling and scrupulous. He provokes a similarly inexplicable cocktail of emotions in audiences. His formidable technique is never held close or precious but can be shorn of all polish in a blink's time. He has a tail-wagging enthusiasm for performance but can be as imperturbable as a prey-stalking lynx. He is funny but never with apparent concern for a laugh or a joke. He is an artist. The Greenwich-mean could be set by his sense of rhythm. He will be performing tomorrow night, September 6, at Dance Theater Workshop in New York City (www.dtw.org)in one of his best roles, a piece called Hind Legs which premiered in 1995. There's nothing like it. Be there if you can.
September 5, 2006
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