Parsons Dance: An Explosion of Light and Movement

I grew up going in and out of dance studios, learning the art of ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and hip-hop. But Parsons Dance, a contemporary dance company based in New York City, goes beyond anything I could ever do from my K-12 dance experience.

The company is known for the dancers remarkable athleticism and stunning ensemble work that fuses contemporary dance gestures and movements with the discipline and precision of classical movement.

David Parsons, the co-founder and artistic director, came to New York from Kansas City and came to the world of dance rather unconventionally since he was originally trained as a gymnast. He is a self taught dancer and over the past several decades he has worked his way up dancing world. He founded Parsons Dance in 1985 alongside lighting designer Howell Binkley. Since the company’s inception, Parsons has created works through commissions from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, the American Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Spoleto Festival, and others.

He’s known for experimenting with light and movement. And is notably famous for the piece piece “Caught,” which he expected to perform at ACANSA when I spoke to him last month. It is noted for incorporating strobe like lighting and beautiful acrobatic leaps through the air to create a truly interesting visual experience.

I had the opportunity to meet with David in his office located in the hustle of bustle of Time Square. He told me that he and several other artists have been granted space in the building through city subsidies. And it is definitely a central location that overlooks flashing billboards, brightly lit subways signs, and confused tourists churning around to see the latest Broadway show.

He describes his company as a strong, hard-working group of dancers that do something unique in the dance world: modern dance with the discipline of classical ballet. “We are branded,” David said. “We tour worldwide. We put the years in.”

David’s company isn’t just known for its style, but the creativity and innovation present in his pieces. He takes his inspiration from all over. The piece “Caught” comes from that idea that “everyone dreams of flying” and the another of his pieces, “Swing Shift,” channels the idea of “dancing late at a club,” he said.

Although he has had an impressive career in dance, he told me that his work as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director has been more a labor of love than a stable career. He was never in the business for the money and it can be a struggle.

One of the thing that keeps him in the arts is how it touches people in the community. “We’ve been doing it in [some form] since our inception,” David said. “We like to service the community we are in.” He and Parsons Dance has worked with disadvantaged high school kids and helped them connect to dance by making music videos with them. And the company has also worked with both children and adults on the autism spectrum.

For him connecting with local communities allows him to give other people from all walks of life that art can be a part of everyone’s world. “It’s really about teaching people they can be creative,” he said.

The thing that keeps him coming day in day out though is the excitement of the dance world that brings the world shows, such as “Jersey Boys” or “Hamilton.”

At the end of our chat he told me that the best part of his job is that he can “get up every morning and fight mediocrity.”

David’s sentiment is something that speaks to the artist in myself, although I’m not a performer in quite the same way. Any singer, dancer, or writer just want to give you something that takes you out of the doldrums of the day-to-day. So tonight, if you have the time come to the show, you’ll be in for an exciting, visual treat.

The company will be doing a master class with special needs kids at The Academy at Riverdale and the dance students at North Little Rock High School in addition to a public performance.