“We’re dying to get to New Orleans,” said David Parsons, artistic director and co-founder of Parsons Dance. His innovative dance company based in New York City will perform at the Mahalia Jackson Theater at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 10.
The remarkable choreographer, teacher, director and producer of contemporary dance performances, who received the 2011 Dance Masters of America’s 2011 award, is clearly enthusiastic about his collaboration with Allen Toussaint, whom he calls “the king of this production.”
“What we’re really about is the music,” Parsons said.
Parsons has collaborated with some of the greatest musicians of our time, including Steely Dan, Dave Matthews, Michael Gordon and Milton Nascimento.
“Miles Davis — we do it all,” Parsons said.
Through New Orleans Ballet Association’s Choreographer/NOLA Musician Commission Initiative, Parsons created five dances to be performed to Toussaint classics, “Southern Nights,” “Bright Mississippi,” “Goin’ Down,” “Play Something Sweet,” and “Yes We Can Can.”
The troupe will spend an entire week in the Big Easy, rehearsing with Toussaint and his 12-piece orchestra, soaking up the city’s magic to create synergy onstage.
“We’ve got a real vibe going on here,” Parsons said.
It’s not the first time Parsons has linked arms with New Orleans culture. The dance company came to New Orleans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina and donated its artistic fees to reopen the main stage season in Dixon Hall on the Tulane University campus.
Abby Silva Gavezzoli, whom Dance Magazine called a “linchpin of the company,” is a Louisiana native from Metairie who helped provide the right cultural insight to the ballet.
When asked if there would be second-line moves in the ballet, Parsons teased, “There is a moment when there’s a handkerchief.”
Gavezzoli and Elizabeth Koeppen will dance alongside eight student performers from NOBA’s pre-professional program in a choreographic debut of Toussaint’s famous “Yes We Can Can.” The work was created through a residency supported by the Chevron Master Artist Series.
Parsons chose Toussaint as his artistic collaborator and the particular music for the commission.
“It was a huge job because he’s got hundreds of songs — it took a month,” Parsons said.
Parsons believes his company is most popular in places with passionate audiences and deep-seated culture like Italy, Brazil and, of course, New Orleans. Parsons Dance has performed in 350 cities in 30 countries and will take this new Toussaint commission to 10 cities across China.
The first half of the Mahalia Jackson performance will include selections from Parsons’ critically acclaimed repertoire.
The solo “Caught” (1982) features a dancer defying gravity, performing more than 100 leaps in less than six minutes.
“The Envelope” (1984), is a humorous social commentary about loss of identity and individuality in which dancers appear like aliens from a strange planet, endlessly circulating a single envelope. Accompanied by music composed by Gioachino Rossini, the piece shows a lighthearted perspective on bureaucracy.
Set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Concertino for Twelve Instruments,” the energetic “Brothers” (1982), is his fiercely athletic men’s duet, originally performed by Parsons himself.
Finally, “Swing Shift” (2003) celebrates 20th century dances, including sock hops and swing dances.
Company members are all trained in ballet, but their trademark is gymnastics, Parsons said.
“The dancers are incredibly physical — like jocks,” he said.