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A buoyant "Shalom" floats over the phone. "That's the right greeting, isn't it?" asks a cheerful David Parsons. The choreographer and his company, Parsons Dance, open at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center for three performances February 1 and will also appear in Haifa and Jerusalem.
"I'm so excited to be coming. Everybody is so excited about coming," continues Parsons. "They all have goose-bumps at the idea of coming to the Holyland."
This will be Parsons' third visit to Israel. His first was when he was dancing with the Paul Taylor company. Then in 1987 he came to create "The Envelope" for Batsheva Dance. This was before Ohad Naharin took over the company, but says Parsons, "I know Ohad, of course I do. I think he was auditioning for Paul Taylor when I was, and we've stayed in touch."
He's toured some of the country, can't wait to dig into a plate of humous and visit one of "all those wonderful places where they grill all kinds of meat. I'm from Kansas so I love BBQ. Israel is a fascinating country. It's got everything from [different] foods to languages to culture and society."
He's eager to talk about the program too, six of his pieces that demonstrate the full scope of his own and the company's considerable abilities, starting with "Caught", a virtuoso solo that he premiered in 1982. The title is literal because strobe lighting flicks on and off to reveal the dancer as though suspended in mid-air.
"The dancer performs 100 jumps in less than five minutes; it's very challenging. 'Caught' is a fusion of technology and art. It celebrates my connection with light. Light is my muse. Really. That's not a sound-bite," he presses earnestly. The strobe lighting is "like photography. I've always loved photography, the way it catches a human body [in movement] in a fraction of a second."
"Wolfgang" celebrates Mozart "because he was a genius and I always want to bring him back to people." It's also an elaborate courtship ritual with more than a nod at classical ballet tradition because Parsons created it for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company.
"Shining Star" that Parsons made for the Alvin Ailey company in 2005 "is a party. I got to New York all those years ago on an Ailey scholarship and then all these years later I make a piece for them. It got a huge reception. People applauded twice before anybody even moved on stage."
"'In the End' is a power play with the underlying theme of the abuse of power," observes the choreographer, while "Slow Dance" is "lyrical, romantic and ends in a blur of speed." "Hand Dance" is just that, dancing hands that make people laugh. During the evening "I want the audience to experience a roller-coaster of emotions and humor is one of them," says Parsons.
The program also shows off Parsons' range that, sometimes in a single dance, can go from classical to modern to romantic to "down and dirty. I make dances for people, not for companies."
The critics, sometimes sniffily, describe Parsons' work as accessible which in dance jargon means easy to understand, and "yes, I'm accessible," he says happily. "I glory in it. I make dance for people, not dance groupies. We have enough avant-gard."
It's an attitude that has made Parsons Dance famous and kept it solidly in the black since he founded the repertory company in 1987. Since then Parsons has created some 70 works for the company, not to mention the pieces he has made for companies and festivals all over the world. In 2000 he received the prestigious Dance Magazine Award and the American Choreography Award the following year.
PARSONS, 47, was born in Chicago and raised in Kansas City where he began his dance training at 12 after first studying gymnastics and trampoline. At 17 he arrived in New York on that Alvin Ailey scholarship and, to help support himself, cleaned the studios. Then he saw the Paul Taylor dance company, decided that was his next move and haunted Taylor's studio for a year badgering to be taken in. He was, and over the years Taylor made many pieces on his athletic and personable dancer. At the same time Parsons choreographed, showing his works at Dance Theater Workshop.
A new Parsons piece may be triggered by an experience or by an idea he nurtures "but there's more. I often feel that a choreographer's language becomes monotonous. I always try to risk new movement because the language of dance is movement and there's always the need to dig down and find a new way of making the movement speak. It's not easy to go in new and different directions."
Passion is at the heart of who he is and what he does, and it's the quality Parsons looks for in the dancers he auditions for his company. "It's what turns me on as a choreographer, watching those people who are so hungry for dance day after day." More than that, "we push them to have experience, to lock into what's happening in the world, because the more they experience, the better they are on stage."