David Parsons was born near Chicago, Illinois and raised in
Kansas City, Missouri. David Parsons began his training as a gymnast. His
favorite aspect about gymnastics is the trampoline. At age 17, he received a
scholarship to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and began his journey as a dancer
and choreographer. From 1978 to 1987, he was a dancer for Paul Taylor Dance
Company, joining at the age of 18. He received an MFA from Jacksonville
University as the first Howard Gilman Fellow, and an honorary doctorate from
the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Parsons founded the Parsons Dance
Company in 1987 with his lighting designer Howell Binkley. He first began
choreographing with a few other dancers, while with the Paul Taylor company and
during that time, he created works like Brothers,
Caught, Scrutiny, and Envelope, which
are still performed today.
Parsons is known for creating modern dance works on his
company and numerous companies across the states and country. Many companies
have also performed his work. His company has a repertory of over 70 works, not
including the dances he has created for other companies. Not only does his
company perform Parsons’ works, they also perform works from his colleagues and
His primary focus is his company to provide him with a
stable place to create his work. He also prioritizes creating dances that
audiences will enjoy. His dancers must be powerful, athletic, almost
superhuman, and passionate to perform Parsons’ work because it is so physically
demanding. His work features many jumps and so much athleticism, it is almost
impossible for the dancers to not be physically fit.
“What Paul Taylor taught me is in my blood, and I don’t
want it to leave–he taught me ways to move the torso that I never want to
lose. I think that having my own ideas, being a different person from Paul is
enough.” -David Parsons, NY Times, 1992. Parsons is directly influenced by his
time with Paul Taylor as previously stated.
Caught 1982, features a strobe light and the dancer, usually male, was
originally performed by Parsons. It features the dancer jumping 100 times in 5
minutes and being caught in the air by the light. After the viewer is
accustomed to the strobe light, the piece elicits an effortlessness of floating
and flying. This piece is always an audience favorite because it is astounding
to see a dancer flying on stage without special effects, besides the lighting.
This is the very first piece Parsons choreographed and is still in his
company’s repertory today. Parsons says his favorite dancer that has performed
this piece is himself. Caught is also
currently in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s repertoire.
Parsons works with eight to nine full-time dancers in his
company. He used to task himself with all the administrative work for his
company, but handed that over to his executive director, Gray Montague. He
works closely with his lighting designer, Howell Binkley. Parsons has an entire
administrative staff that he works very close with and most of them have been
with him since the opening of his company.
He has worked with many different composers from multiple
places around the country and world. A more well-known collaboration was with
Milton Nascimento, who first saw the company perform in Rio de Janeiro and
wanted to compose a score for Parsons. They worked together for months and the
product became a well-known danced titled Nascimento.
While Parsons is creating new works, they are not as noted
as his previous works. His company is still performing and touring across the
states and world, with a new tour coming up in 2018. He takes part in outreach
and educational programs with his dancers. They have a new program at PS75, a
public school in Manhattan, working with kindergarteners and third graders on
the autism spectrum. As a part of the autism initiative, his company has
done a “relaxed performance” which brings dance to audiences of all abilities. He
has launched intensives in his hometown of Kansas City as well as in Milan,
His focus is to create exciting dances that audiences can
enjoy. One of his newer works, Hello
World, is a unique collaboration with Drexel University’s Expressive and
Creative Interaction Technologies Center (ExCITe) and Dr. Youngmoo Kim. This work explores the evolution of
man and machine, using highly sophisticated custom-built drones, this work
embraces a technology-driven vision of the future.
Parsons is excited about showcasing young and emerging
choreographers, because he wants to see them flourish and become successful.
Robert Battle is a perfect example of having choreographed work for Parsons Dance
and is now the artistic director for the Alvin Ailey Company.
Parsons Dance Summer Intensive is held every single summer.
Upcoming tour starting in February. The closest performance will be in Ogden,
I do not completely relate to this artist in that my own
choreography does not require a lot of athleticism. I would incorporate this
into my work if my dancers could do the more challenging movements I asked them
to do. I also believe, if I cannot do it myself, I will not ask my dancers to
I greatly appreciate his use of
athleticism is his dances. His work is quite unique and unlike most other dance
I have seen. I appreciate how he allows young and new choreographers to create
on his dancers and showcase it in shows and tours.
David Parsons has been called one of
the great movers of modern dance. He is still creating work today and is
allowing younger people to choreograph and add their works to the company
repertoire. He is one of the most well-known modern dancers and choreographers
of the twenty-first century.