Parsons fails to amuse with his satirical dance

September 29, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FAIRFAX, Va. -- No one has ever thought of David Parsons as a deep choreographer, but his light works have, at least, wit, charm and intelligence. Until this weekend.

His new one-act dance-theater piece, "Channeling," which premiered Saturday at George Mason University, is silly, shallow and more trivial than the mass media it seeks to satirize.

And why? Two reasons: Too much money and no one to ride herd on the artist.

These are problems common to commissioned works these days, for the commissioning process in American art is badly handled. An artist submits a vague proposal, relying on reputation and a pack of collaborators to impress the granting agency, and "Channeling" is the kind of thing that emerges. Well, I hope GMU, the Atlanta (Ga.) Ballet and the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee are pleased.

"Channeling," a 30-minute work, is in three parts, each beginning with a couple glued to a TV set, followed by an extended coda.

In the first, the couple is watching a horror film, and the dancers loom up from behind the couch wearing long red gloves and wiggling their fingers evilly. Above them, on a wide screen, we see a collage of monster movies.

The second act is about sex appeal, expressed on the big TV screen by women with big hair. The third is politics, and to a montage of news footage, the corps forms a boxing ring with a rope and sends various pairs in to duke it out.

There's nothing original about the ideas or the way they're carried out. The piece is fitfully amusing, and there are one or two moments that show some thought: The TV-watching woman, for instance, has a duet with the long-haired lovelies on the screen, ending in a realization that she'll never be as sexy as the ads promise.

But most of the piece is busywork; the set unhelpful; the costumes dull when they're not outright ugly.

And the music, performed live by the Michael Raye Band, is a tuneless rock drone. Just once -- by a nod to Jimi Hendrix's searing, screaming "Star-Spangled Banner" in the political section -- does Raye seem to acknowledge that the music should have something to do with the dance.

Perhaps the worst insult is that the video collages -- no credit given -- are so much fun to watch that we forget about the dancers. If the videos are supposed to demonstrate that television takes over with a vengeance, it's a cruel way to make the point.

If Parsons can create funny vignettes of human emotions, from stodgy and solemn to giddy and giggly, in "Mood Swing"; and if he can go all-out and make a serious, bold and electric work of abstract dance like "Closure," then why can't he train those qualities on a subject that deserves some satirical intelligence?

Parsons Dance Company will perform Oct. 11 at Stephens Hall Theater at Towson University. The program will not include "Channeling" (the stage is far too small), but the repertory should encompass some of Parsons' better small pieces. For tickets to the Towson University performance, call 410-830-2787.

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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