He appears on stage slowly, his movements precise and slightly exaggerated to focus the audience’s attention on his presence. Then the stage blacks out. Somewhere in the corner of one’s vision, the dancer moves with dizzying speed, making perhaps scores of leaps in mere seconds. They register briefly in one’s perception as if the dancer defied gravity and took flight, an effect achieved with strobe lights. Once the strobes dim, the dancer returns to comparative slow motion, making the audience wonder what exactly what it was that they saw.
Such is the wonder of David Parsons’ choreographic work “Caught” and one that Parsons Dance performs during this year’s Laguna Dance Festival, which promises to thrill audiences next week. (The audience literally gasped during the debut performance locally during the 2008 festival.)
Also on the troupe’s program is the West Coast premiere of “Round My World.” Set to a Brazilian-style beat composed by cellist Zoë Keating, it revolves around founder and artistic director David Parsons’ enthusiastic embrace of globalization.
“I choreographed the piece after living in Brazil. It is not a narrative but an expression of feelings that the dancers exude by performing largely with their hands; it works,” he explained. Some of The New York-based company’s most dedicated fans live in Brazil and Italy.
Even so, Parsons looks forward to performing again in Laguna Beach due to festival founder Jodie Gates ability to generate enthusiastic audiences. “I’ve known Jodie for 20 years. She’s a great choreographer and she gets people into seats. Face it. No one wants to play gigs where hardly anyone shows up,” he said.
For her part, Gates says she selects dance companies, dance works and gala performances that are thoughtfully curated.
The program also includes Parsons’ most notable recent work, “For EK 90,” commissioned to celebrate the 90th birthday of artist Ellsworth Kelly. “It is a tight narrative based on gender identity, about two people who don’t quite know where they stand in that regard,” said Parsons, also adding that the storyline ends on a note of acceptance and embrace of individual differences.
Filling out the program will be performances of “Kind of Blue,” based on the Miles Davis composition, and “Nasicmento Novo,” the latter set to music by Milton Nascimento, a composer whom Parsons describes as an influential friend.
In its ninth season this year, the festival will also again feature the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet directed by Jean-Philippe Malaty, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer and choreographer. The group is also known for its unique Mexican Folk Dance program, designed to reach audiences in New Mexico and Colorado.
The troupe will perform “Like a Samba,” by Trey McIntyre, Jorma Elo’s “Overglow” and “Last” by Alejandro Cerrudo.
Both directors will also conduct master classes with Parsons conducting his at the Laguna Playhouse and Malaty at Laguna Beach High School.
Ticket holders can also attend an hour-long talk at the Playhouse before each performance.
Michelle Maasz, a 21-year old dance major at UC Irvine, speaks of the festival’s appeal to audiences of all ages but particularly to younger viewers. “The proximity of those stellar artists is something I have been looking forward to each year and I have also been inviting a lot of my friends who have never attended a dance show before because LDF is such a welcoming community experience,” she said.