The idea of the project is to cross-fertilize new dance in the two cities (Boston and New York) by presenting choreography in cabaret settings.
Snap Crackle Bang! at the Dance Complex, Mass. Avenue, Cambridge, MA on June 17
By Marcia B. Siegel
They weren’t serving champagne at the Bang Group’s gala evening Saturday but there was fizz all over the place. The performance honored local philanthropist Stanley N. Griffith and launched DanceNow Boston/NYC, a program to foster young choreographers from both cities. As part of the evening’s events, Amber Sloan and Nic Petry danced on carpets of bubble wrap to the “Waltz of the Flowers” from the Bang Group’s Nut/Cracked, accompanied by the audience popping our own squares of wrap.
David Parker, Bang Group co-founder with Jeff Kazin, announced the first Robert B. and Joan H. Parker Compassionate Action Award in honor of Parker’s parents. Recipient Stanley N. Griffith of Lexington has been an active volunteer for civil rights groups in the Boston area, especially PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), with which he has worked for a decade. Mark Mettler, president of the PFLAG board of directors, accepted a personal donation to the organization from Parker.
Jeff Kazin announced the launch of the Dance Now Boston/NYC commissioning project, which this year supported four Boston choreographers, Jimena Bermejo, Carey McKinley, McKersin Previlus, and Ian Berg. They all presented their work at the Dance Complex on Friday night. The idea of the project is to cross-fertilize new dance in the two cities by presenting choreography in cabaret settings. The Bang Group produces seasons of their own work and that of others at the West End Theater in New York. At the Dance Complex, little tables were set up in the studio theater for the weekend’s events.
Deborah Lohse, a former recipient of a Dance Now commission, has appeared here with the Bang Group at Oberon, and she brought her New York-based LMnO3 to the Complex, in an excerpt from their 2016 B.A.N.G.S.: made in america. The 10-minute sketch had three women (Lohse, Cori Marquis and Donnell Oakley), in ripstop snowsuits with bare feet, prancing and mocking stereotypical male and female attitudes. The full work was shown at the Complex on Sunday.
Vocal numbers were among the other small-scale entertainments. Parker and Kazin, accomplished show singers, performed “50 Percent,” from Michael Bennett’s Ballroom, with piano accompanist Ann Silverman. In the musical, Parker explained, the heroine declares she’s okay with sharing her married lover with another woman. Parker said both he and Kazin have other domestic partners, but as co-directors of the Bang Group, they happily form a complimentary duo that occupies at least 50 percent of their lives.
Sloan and Petry swept into “Waltz for a Ball,” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The grandiose dips and swings of the music echoed R & H’s ballroom in The King and I, but the original Cinderella was a stunning event on television in 1957 starring Julie Andrews. Up to that time there’d never been anything so impressive on a small screen.
David Parker choreographed the waltz, as he did all the other dance pieces on the program. Parker has been making tap/music fusions since around 2013, starting with Steve Reich’s austere but heady “Clapping Music.” Saturday he soloed Mozart’s “Turkish Dance,” without a sound track. He tapped the missing melody, sometimes dancing the theme, sometimes the accompaniment, and sometimes singing the orchestra’s part. You could follow his rhythms clearly for this well-known piece of music. I had all I could do to keep from humming along.
Parker has a background not only in tap but in modern dance and ballet. His basic strategy had been to make tap phrases that imitated a musical line. Now he’s developing more serious choreography that adds in moves that can get beyond the showoff potential of pure tap. His new dance, Turing Tests, has a neo-expressionistic score by Dean Rosenthal that incorporates solo violin and three sets of taps. Kazin, Petry, and Tommy Seibold began imitating the music’s more or less isolated notes. Then they began embellishing the notes with syncopations and decorations in the music’s pauses. They added stamping, body slapping, and clapping to the rhythm. Soon the trio turned into a series of romantic encounters: embraces, lifts, rivalries.
Saturday also saw the premiere of Parker’s Running With Scissors, to the “Piano Rag Music” of Igor Stravinsky. The men’s trio, Sloan and Rebecca Hadley, all barefoot, tapped Stravinsky’s phrase rhythms in silence at the beginning. Then, along with the composer’s succession of disparate jazzy phrases and pauses, the dancers fell into counterpoint groups, with undeveloped hints of how these five men and women might be interacting. Like Stravinsky, they stopped suddenly as if they’d used up all the rags they knew.
There’s a certain awkwardness about this fusion form. Tap, like most other rhythm dance, is a dance of the lower body. The arms and torso don’t have much to do, and when the rhythm is complicated, the intricacies of the footwork are probably as much as a performer can manage. When you introduce the irregularities of modern music, or the overlapping themes of a Mozart, as well as the histrionic gestures and simulated seductions of modern dance, the natural rebound and flow of jazz dancing seems to disappear. I look forward to seeing the further effects of this fusion with David Parker and his game-for-anything dancers.
Internationally known writer, lecturer, and teacher Marcia B. Siegel covered dance for 16 years at The Boston Phoenix. She is a contributing editor for The Hudson Review. The fourth collection of Siegel’s reviews and essays, Mirrors and Scrims—The Life and Afterlife of Ballet, won the 2010 Selma Jeanne Cohen prize from the American Society for Aesthetics. Her other books include studies of Twyla Tharp, Doris Humphrey, and American choreography. From 1983 to 1996, Siegel was a member of the resident faculty of the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.