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Whizbang pranks
David Parker & Bang conclude Concord Academy’s ‘Summer Stages’

Attendance has steadily grown for Summer Stages Dance at Concord Academy, and the 400-seat theater was full last Thursday night for David Parker & the Bang Group as the 2003 series concluded. Summer Stages directors Amy Spencer and Richard Colton deserve our thanks for this eight-year-old project. In addition to three weeks of classes with stellar faculty, they’ve brought live, offbeat but high-quality dance performance to the Boston area. All three featured attractions on this summer’s series — Chris Elam’s Misnomer, soloist Peter Boal, and the Bang Group — have sought to rearrange fixed notions about dancing and choreography, and they’ve given us new ways to look at whatever comes next.

Based in New York, the Bang Group is the brainchild of David Parker, but the choreography is collaborative, at least in the moment of performance. Most of the work presented Thursday depended on the inspired mismatching of two or more bodies. Timing seemed to be crucial, and so was the running dialogue of divergent desires. You can rehearse that only so far. In performance, spontaneity and reflex come to the surface.

In the quartet Enough, to the first movement of Rachmaninov’s C-minor Piano Concerto, Parker, Jeffrey Kazin, Amber Sloan, and Kathryn Tufano whirled and fell through the space, focusing on one another only long enough to make eye contact. After an initial desperate grappling, the electricity shut off and they sprawled apart, or one of them would fix on a new target and break away. Recuperating between these inconclusive pas de deux, they took soulful stretches that shattered into stomping rhythms or nerveless collapses. They switched love objects constantly, but they used the music always.

All four dancers wore the same costumes — some kind of red bulky material like felt, but basted together so loosely that the wearer’s skin showed at all the seams. The outfits looked as if designer Jeroen Teunissen had cut out the patterns to make jackets, skirts, and pants but then had lost track of the main idea.

Clothing is an important element in the Bang work. In fact, the subject was introduced first thing in the evening, in Rainbow Down. Parker came out in his underwear, followed by Kazin in tight jeans and a black country shirt with red flowers on the yoke and shoulders. Kazin was carrying some folded garments over his arm. He might have been Parker’s valet. A look passed between them, and Kazin handed Parker a pair of jeans. As Parker put on the jeans and then a shirt, you saw they were identical to what Kazin was wearing. A little joke, but a big shift in the two men’s signified relationship.

They launched into a boisterous folk dance that quickly rebounded into a crazed pas de deux. Parker looked eager and Kazin, splayed across Parker’s shoulders or down his back, looked exalted. Throughout the dance you heard movie soundtracks that reminded you of the romance they were upending before your eyes.

The duo were at it again, with an evil glint in their eyes, in Slapstuck. In suits made of Velcro, they dramatized the consequences of becoming stuck on each other. Kazin hung no-handed across Parker’s back until Parker unzipped his jacket and let his partner down. They got into the sound of the Velcro coming apart, orchestrating a rhythm dance out of slaps, stamps, and assorted rips.

Flamenco guitar and sultry seduction permeated Under, in which Tufano and Marta Miller toyed with each other’s affections, looking, looking away, inviting, pretending to be angry. Parker reclined on the floor during the entire dance, serving as the women’s sofa, the pawn in their games, the boundary that separated them. Finally, after a virtuosic tussle, Parker spied his payback moment. In a flash, he sprang up and sat down on the embracing women.

Role reversal doesn’t come without a struggle, and in Housebroken, an older dance Parker made with Sara Hook, the dancers Elizabeth Johnson and Luc Varnier became so entangled, there was no way out but to exit in tandem. The piece was accompanied by sections from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and Parker claimed in the evening-ending Q&A that he had no idea what the words meant and didn’t intend the music to have any relationship to the dancers’ knockabout mugging. This is postmodernist objectivity diving off the deep end. Either Parker was being disingenuous about this musical icon or there’s something shallower than I thought about his work. Or deeper.

Issue Date: August 1 - 7, 2003
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