"Comedy is hard," David Parsons confessed last week. He was recounting the work he's done on Too Many Cooks, his new multi-movement tribute to Mexican 1960s space-lounge composer Juan Garcia Esquivel, since its initial showings in Cincinnati, Allentown and Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
Parsons heard Esquivel on public radio last year just as he was about to begin work on some dances for children. "I thought it was a wonderful way to introduce instruments to children because he goes completely crazy with them," he said. "I needed some music, and after last September in New York we've been under a lot of tension, and I just wanted to say to my dancers, 'Let's have some fun.'"
Indeed, they seemed to, unleashed to the trademark frantic whinnies of Esquivel's big brass sections and Hawaiian-sounding electric slide guitars. In its first tryouts, Too Many Cooks was undeniably amusing--and, apparently, just as undeniably too long. "Really, you have to put a work like that in front of an audience and play with it before you know just what you have," Parsons concluded. After initial stagings--and a disconfirming review in the Washington Post--the choreographer cut the work by a quarter by showtime Tuesday night.
Now his company plays the not-so-subtle hierarchies of the culinary set for laughs to over-the-top renditions of jazz chestnuts like "Harlem Nocturne" and "Sentimental Journey." A red-aproned kitchen dominatrix menaces a short-order cook to "Begin the Beguine" with a soup ladle turned riding crop, and twin pastry chefs knead the dough--and one another--in a gravity-defying section. A final inspection of the goods turns into a steamy, sinuous food orgy when this whole "tasting" thing goes out of bounds.
Though the initial sequences still read a little lengthy, by its end, Too Many Cooks had us eating out of its hand.
Still, concertgoers may have been surprised when half of the Parsons' company concert consisted of work not by David Parsons. We saw his signature solo, "Caught," in which a dancer levitates, without wires, to music by transcendental King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, and the considerably newer "Union," which he describes as "a huge puzzle" and a continuous flow of bodies in "almost a hunter/gatherer society."
In the remaining half of the show, Parsons featured two works by Robert Battle: "Takademe" and "The Hunt," and choreographer Lila York's "Gloria." He sees such programming as part of his mission.
"Put it this way," he says. "I've had this very successful company for 15 years and I think it's time to bring other talent to the forefront. I see talented choreographers, so I produce them and I don't know why, but it works. These people deserve to be seen and their works deserve to be seen."
Battle's "Takademe" is set to the fast, interlocking spoken-word rhythms of Sheila Chandra. "The interpretation is basically exact down to the syllable, so it's quite fast, beautifully complicated and funny," Parsons notes. "The Hunt," meanwhile, took the bombast of Les Tambours du Bronx, an alternative music percussion group, to propel an incredibly physical male quartet.
Originally commissioned by the Atlanta Ballet, York's "Gloria" was composed as a tribute to the choreographer's mother. Set to Poulenc, these concerts mark the first time York has put the work on a contemporary dance company.
"Robert's a younger choreographer," Parsons notes. "He's searching for his voice and more on edge. Lila's a classicist, and her Poulenc has a very classical edge to it, but still she's very contemporary."
When asked what draws him to their works, Parsons cites what he calls the trueness of their vocabulary. "There's a truth to it," he concludes, "and a lineage. I first saw Battle as a Julliard student and we toured the world together. Lila and I toured for six years together with Paul Taylor. So there's a common bond."
Apparently it's one big enough to ensure that three choreographers still aren't too many cooks.