David Parker & The Bang Group
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
December 18, 2010 (evening)
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2010 by Carol Pardo
Tired of tulle but hankering for another take on Tchaikovsky? David Parker’s "Nut/Cracked" is for you. The show—they’re not too proud to call it that in the program—is a downtown riff on the ubiquitous Christmas entertainment in vaudeville form and twenty-two numbers. Track suits replace tutus and Tchaikovsky gets an assist from Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. The dance vocabulary ranges even further afield. There is ballet and toe shoes (no ribbons though), but also a goodly dose of "Saturday Night Fever" and most everything in between.
Parker himself gets the show in gear. He’s comes out wearing a Santa Claus hat on his head and a shaving cream beard straight from the can. He walks thoughtfully to center stage, places his arms forearm over forearm. On a surface done up like a Christmas gift flattened by a truck (bow included) he begins to tap. The tapping is so embroidered that it takes a while to distinguish Tchaikovsky’s Russian dance beneath it and the vocals by Fred Waring. The connection seems obvious after the fact. Out comes Jeffrey Kazin and the solo becomes a more competitive duet, its ornamentation more complex and more percussive. The piece ends. Kazin walks off. Parker picks up that flattened present/tapping platform and walks off too, a slight smile on his face.
That’s our introduction to the themes of the evening: the primacy of rhythm, its expression by percussive means, leavened by competition and humor in their gentlest forms. But "Nut/Cracked" is defined chiefly by Parker’s affection and respect for Tchaikovsky’s score. The ingredients come together to deliver a powerful (and unexpected) emotional punch midway through the show. "Tree" begins with Aaron Mattocks prone, a miniature Christmas tree resting on his diaphragm. The change in scale from what one sees uptown sets off a wave of giggles in the audience. But the house grows quiet as the dancer unfolds himself, ever upward. The solo ends with his body stretched to its fullest height as high on his toes as possible, that little tree lifted to the heavens. It’s man’s voyage from the primordial ooze to thinking, feeling biped, in a matter of minutes.
The eleven dancers in "Snow" quote "Swan Lake," Ashton’s "Les Patineurs" and four year olds making snow angels after the first snowfall, and much else besides. How Parker knit the various rhythms, vocabularies, and groups to create a coherent, even inevitable, whole is his secret, like turning straw, rope, and silk into gold lace.
Taking a cue from marketing folks nationwide, "Nut/Cracked" features appearances of kids, the better to get their friends and family into the house. The company was supplemented by a rotating quartet of student dance troupes. At this performance, members of the Young Dancemakers Company, drawn from the city’s public schools, had their own number to Tchaikovsky’s Trepak. Parker fit disco into the national dances, and using more forthright rhythms than in his own opening solo, tailored this version to the talents of the guests.
Not all the numbers were as successful. "Thumbs" to the music for the grand pas de deux is a duet in which Aaron Mattocks and Nic Petry partner each other via their thumbs, sucked or not. I admire Parker’s ingenuity and the dancers’ execution. But as Tchaikovsky soars ever upward, "Thumbs," in contrast, seems increasingly flat, stuck in its conceit and puerile. However, just as one is about to give up on it, a lift to the shoulder rides the final surge of the adagio, and "Nut/Cracked" reconnects with Tchaikovsky, the raison d’être of the evening.