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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Artists Reach Out: David Parker

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

David Parker

David Parker (front)
with Jeffrey Kazin, Amber Sloan
and Kathryn Tufano of The Bang Group
(photo: Nicholas Burnham)

Choreographer David Parker directs The Bang Group with Jeffrey Kazin. They founded the company together in 1995 as a collective of dancers with roots in percussive and contemporary forms and an interest in mingling them. Parker's work is dedicated to creative liberty, aesthetic diversity and craftsmanship. The company tours and performs widely throughout North America and Europe and is best known for its comic/subversive, neo-vaudevillian production of The Nutcracker entitled Nut/Cracked. Parker has also created over 60 commissioned works for modern and ballet companies, college and university dance departments and solo artists in both theater and dance. He is a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow and has won numerous awards both celebrating and in support of his choreographic work. In addition to regular home seasons in New York City, The Bang Group has established a second home in Boston through commissioning of local artists and ongoing teaching, mentoring and performing.

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

My company, The Bang Group, and I have lost several upcoming jobs so far and surely more to come. Jeff Kazin (co-Director of The Bang Group) and I are dance programmers at The Flea, and it seems now that The Flea will be closed until the Fall. I will not mentor the senior choreographers at Juilliard this year, I will not complete a commissioned work for the students of Hofstra University, I will not complete a commissioned work for 10 Hairy Legs, The Bang Group will not go to Liege, Belgium for a performance and residency, I will not perform in The Horse's Mouth Tribute to New York Theatre Ballet, we will not perform at WestFest, and, for me, the saddest thing is that I will not perform a new duet I've made for myself and Jeffrey Kazin at The Providence Dance Festival which was to be my return to the stage following my knee replacement a year ago.

The fate of other performances and commissions is still in flux. This year's revival of my own ShowDown is still officially happening in Boston, Pennsylvania and NYC later in the year though these remain precarious as well. The Look + Listen Festival, which commissioned a new collaborative music/dance work by me and composer Viola Yip, has been postponed until the fall. We still have Nut/Cracked touring in December.

We are not able to keep our creative work going though we do have regular happy hour meetings via Zoom with as many of The Bang Group as we can. We are paying the dancers as long as we can and trying to give emotional succor and a dose of humor which can seem remote in both senses of the word. Still we're a family, and we're intact.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I grew up in a highly-pressured, verbal household; my father was a writer of detective novels and an English professor, and my mother was a professor of Early Childhood Growth and Development and a philanthropist. My brother is a stage actor. I escaped into a wordless, but not silent, art form by beginning tap and ballet studies when I was 16. I found that I longed to organize everything I knew into beats, shapes and steps.

Dylan Baker and Tommy Seibold in Bang,
the work that gave the group its name.
(photo: Yi-Chun Wu)

I grew up and made a series of a cappella dances in which the music was made by the dancing itself. One of them featured the unadorned body thuds of two men lying on the floor together and culminated in syncopated kissing. Audiences found it funny. I thought it was poignant.  I saw it as a love story about men fitting themselves together, sharing a beat, kissing in 5/4 time. This dance was called Bang, and it gave its name to the company it spawned, The Bang Group. I make rhythm-driven contemporary dance, but I'm not interested in percussion only as music. I'm interested in the ways it echoes deeply personal stories and how we engage with the people that surround us.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I'm practicing a new dance I'm making for myself based on a solo I made for the spectacular Caleb Teicher for my Danspace season in 2017. I'm adapting it to my new capacities and limitations post-knee replacement. I'm also practicing my half of the contrapuntal duet I made for myself and Jeff Kazin that was to have premiered on April 18. I also do about two hours of exercise by myself in my home studio. I work through an amalgam of fitness, physical therapy work, ballet, Pilates and weight lifting. I try to practice tap technique for another 30 minutes per day as well.

Aside from that I've been putting my archives in order and re-experiencing the last forty years of my life in New York City, which I put in perspective during long contemplative walks along the Hudson River in the early morning. I am envisioning a return to full activity after a number of months though with the acknowledgment of as-yet-unknown consequences.

I also see an increase in innovations for online creative practice for dance. I aim to set some in motion next week. The first ones will be linguistic prompts. I will ask the dancers for various mixes of words according to rules I will establish which will serve as the basis for scores for my upcoming collaboration with composer Viola Yip.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I most care about the dancers and our cohesion as people committed to each other and to this enterprise. It is on that alone that our work together depends. I've worked with Jeff for 30 years, Nic Petry and Amber Sloan for more than 15, Chelsea Ainsworth and Dylan Baker for more than 10 and with Tommy Seibold and Louise Benkelman for about 5 years each. I am convinced that the substance of our work together flows as much from our feeling for each other as it does from the ideas and movements that arise from choreographic structures. We have a kind of collective imagination.

The loss of this daily practice is terribly sad but I am keeping the spark fanned as long as I can with regular electronic contact and through continuing my own creative work with my body. As I dance by myself, I am working as hard to dissolve tribal boundaries between dance forms in my own body as I do in my work with others. I can still feel that sense of wholeness and embrace even if the audience at this point is only my corgi Millie.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

I don't know. I'm working to expand the possibility of our interacting with dance beyond proximity with other human beings in-the-flesh while, at the same time, I marvel at and long for that glory.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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