Parsons Dance

Stepping lively: Parsons Dance

In its three-night stand in the White Bird series, David Parsons' company reveals a style steeped in energetic American exuberance

On Thursday night I made my way down seven flights of cement steps in my building, plus God alone knows how many ditto steps leading from the Park blocks down to the Newmark Theatre, to see Parsons Dance, White Bird’s tenth show of the current season.

I’m glad I did. The energy and exuberance of these dancers, their commitment to what they are dancing and what they are dancing about (love, death, the battle of the genders, music, dancing itself), lifted my spirits and made me for the first time since Election Day 2016, at least briefly, unashamed to be an American.

Because, while there are two foreign-born dancers in the company – Henry Steele of Australia and Joan Rodriguez of Cuba (whom we last saw here as a member of the Malpaso Dance Company) – this is the quintessential American dance company, and the founder, David Parsons, is biographically and aesthetically the quintessential American choreographer.

Parsons’ “Whirlaway” – “a hoedown, a dance party, infused with all kinds of American social dance.” Photo: Lois Greenfield

He’s been at it a while, as a dancer (with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and New York City Ballet, where he was a guest artist) and a choreographer for his own company (founded in 1984) and many many others, of both the ballet and modern persuasions, plus musicals, film, and the Millennium festival in Times Square. Portland State University’s Contemporary Dance Season presented him first in Portland, and I saw him perform Caught, a virtuosic solo for dancer and strobe light: Paraphrasing my review in Willamette Week at the time, he looked like a cross between an angel and an Iowa farm boy. He never was an Iowa farm boy. But he does come from the Heartland, and he retains the frank, casual warmth that at least used to be associated with American character, and moreover, that provides something of a through line in his choreographic style.

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DanceWatch Monthly: April dance in full bloom

What's happening in Oregon dance now

“And spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant

Welcome to DanceWatch for April.

Last year at this time, I was in Japan, and everywhere you looked there were cherry trees with cascading pink flowers, and countless people posing for photos beneath them. In Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of Kyoto, spring celebrations were in full swing. The Hozu River, which runs from the mountains down into Kyoto, is lined with cherry trees. Large families with young girls dressed in colorful kimonos were strolling in the warm air along the banks, taking pictures under the trees, shopping, eating ice cream, and socializing late into the evening. It was idyllic.

Until that time, I don’t think I had ever experienced spring in quite this way before. The slower pace, the appreciation of nature, of the season, of family and tradition; it was all so beautiful, it made me euphoric.

I offer you this month’s performances as an embodiment of this experience, and of spring. April’s dance performances are full of new life, fresh ideas, and boundless energy. Enjoy!

International and cultural dance styles

Bharatanatyam guru Shubha Dhananjay and  daughters Maya and Mudra channel the divine in “Srinivasa Kalynam.” Photo courtesy of Yashaswini Raghuram.

Srinivasa Kalyanam
Presented by HECSA Portland Balaji Temple
Choreography by Shubha Dhananjay, artistic director of Natyantharanga
4:30 pm April 6
Canby High School, Richard R. Brown Fine Arts Auitorium, 721 SW 4th Ave., Canby

Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form that originated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. is known for its grace, elegance, expressiveness, and sculptural poses. Look for all of these in the dance drama Srinivasa Kalyana, which tells the story of Lord Vishnu’s descent to earth to spread love and devotion in the age of Kaliyuga (also known as the age of quarrel). The drama culminates in a royal wedding between Lord Vishnu and Princess Padmavati, and ends with Lord Vishnu taking the form of the deity Venkateshwara. (To read the full story, click here.)

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