Witty Romps on Stage

David Parker’s comic physicality is sincere, but also silly

David Parker and the Bang Group’s current evening at Dance Theater Workshop is a driven, busy romp that, in the six pieces shown, demonstrates a great range of emotions expressed with the group’s particular style. It reads a lot like a retrospective.

Parker prides himself on bringing wit into modern dance, drawing on the physical comedy of vaudeville and silent film, and placing it within a different context. This wit is certainly strongly felt, but there is also a more serious, even reserved side of the group. The unifying element is a humanity not exactly rare, but rarely so centralized, in postmodern dance.

Sitting in the audience is like hanging out with your really funny friend who for the most part just cracks you up, but wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if she didn’t also let you see her vulnerability and thoughtfulness every once in a while. In fact, the weakest parts of the evening are when it goes too far into silliness. The performance is almost always funny, but imagine the friend who never gets serious. After a while, it is hard to believe that the humor is real and instead of being all caught up in the joy, it is all too easy to step back and become critical.

Thankfully the too silly moments are few and far between and the majority of the evening is incredibly sincere. The first piece of the evening is “Friends of Dorothy”––a great place to begin.

Parker walks onto the stage in a white T-shirt and boxers. It’s midwinter and his skin is pale white and there is a small sore on his right knee. He stands plainly in front of the audience. After a brief time of mutual staring, Jeffrey Kazin, a longtime member of the Bang Group, enters fully dressed and carrying clothes for Parker. After dressing, they begin to dance.

In this piece in particular, they dance more for one another and less for the audience. It is touchingly honest––they really love each other and the mutual respect and care is infectious.

“Intra 1,” the first of two brief interludes, and “Enough,” the fifth piece on the program and the closer before the intermission, represent the more postmodern end of Parker’s spectrum. “Intra 1” is a very well constructed, slow vignette of a few formal women pulling themselves together. Each limb that extends out from the body is retracted by a restrictive hand. Steps taken and ground covered gets pulled up––in tight and concise––like the whole of the piece itself. As a contrast to the generally effusive Bang Group, this quiet piece is immensely satisfying.

“Enough” is the most ambitious work on the program. A romantic, courtly quartet performing to Rachmaninoff reaches for the most sophisticated, subtle humor. There is gentle ribbing of dance that takes itself too seriously. The dancing draws less on the vernacular than some of Parker’s other work and thus it’s a little harder to get into. As a result, the humor that accompanies it seems a little too put on.

“Cracked,” a version of Parker’s “Nutcracker” knock-off, constitutes the second half of the program. As this adaptation is created from excerpts, it is hard to say if the missing sections would round out the piece more, but in general “Cracked” relies too heavily on gimmicky fun––much in the way that the “Nutcracker” itself does.

Each section is well performed and many of them cause a collective guffaw from the audience, but the balancing elements of romance, sweetness, caring, and quietude are gone and the laughs become crude.

The humanity of the performers is greatly enhanced in this performance by incredible lighting design by Kathy Kaufman. Reminiscent of a good portrait photographer, the lighting seems to simultaneously flatter and bring out the fallibility of each dancer.

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