Face to Face: David Parker

Parker clowning around in his Nut/Cracked

This winter, David Parker celebrates the 21st-anniversary season of his company, The Bang Group, with the same irreverence and subversive humor he began it with. “We’re calling the upcoming season ‘We’re Finally Legal,’” he deadpans. It’s also the 13th anniversary of Nut/Cracked, his zany take on the classic Nutcracker, set to an arrangement that includes Duke Ellington’s jazzy rendition of Tchaikovsky’s score. The show was originally inspired by a duet he created with longtime company member Jeff Kazin—an otherwise classical pas de deux in which they sucked each other’s thumbs amidst finger turns and arabesque promenades. When an Italian presenter asked him to choreograph a full-length version of the show in the same spirit, Parker initially balked—“I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not qualified’”—but he eventually produced the comically charming show New England audiences in particular have come to know, love and laugh uproariously at. During the company’s run at The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston this month, they’ll be joined by students from local schools.

Nut/Cracked trouble spots “The section I found the hardest to choreograph is ‘The Waltz of the Snowflakes.’ I was going over the score, and there are frequently little short measures of two opposite measures of three, which would make it seem unmusical. Then I started to take that into account, and it opened up the whole thing. The motif is as if people are running through snow and ice and falling. I used the falling as rhythmic accents all the way through.”

What he looks for in dancers “There are two things that I am drawn to and conscious about. I can tell which people have a really good understanding of time and rhythm and musicality. If they don’t have that, I’ll never be able to get anywhere with them—it’ll be too frustrating. The second thing is more elusive: I want to know why they dance. It appeals to me if they are in some way determined to be someone through dancing who they felt they never were without it. I want to see some kind of fighting for their identities through dance. That gives them the stamina to get through the process, and it also shows me they have the curiosity to find themselves in roles, rather than just deliver a performance.”

Becoming the funny guy “It feels funny to say this now, after everything I’ve done, but in the beginning, the first pieces I made—I did not make them to be funny, and I did not think they were funny. And when we performed them, people laughed. It threw me off a little. I didn’t mind it; I thought, ‘Well, they’re liking it.’ I wasn’t sure what they found funny. Even now, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has to do with the mix of different kinds of dancing that are not usually seen together and the way I used rhythm. We would repeat rhythmic patterns and then there’d be one enormous change, and it would make people laugh. So we were hitting them in some kind of visceral way. It’s kind of like an abstract form of choreographic humor—it’s not like we were slipping on banana peels or telling jokes.” DT

Training: Bard College; Merce Cunningham Studio; ballet with Janet Panetta; tap with Noel Parenti

Performance: danced with Anita Feldman; Gail Conrad; Stephan Koplowitz; Christopher Williams; Doug Elkins’ Fräulein Maria

Choreography: artistic director of The Bang Group since 1995; commissioned by Arena di Verona Ballet in Italy; New York Theatre Ballet; GroundWorks Dance Theater; 10 Hairy Legs;

The Juilliard School

Teaching: Barnard College; Past: The Juilliard School;

The Ailey School; visiting professor at Princeton University, Hunter College and SUNY Purchase

Photo by Nicholas Burnham, courtesy of Parker

 

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