The Classical Beat: KC’s David Parsons brings dance workshop to Bolender Center

07/26/2014 7:00 AM

07/26/2014 7:29 PM

David Parsons has a close personal relationship with Kansas City, and it’s about to get closer.

Parsons recently announced that he and his company, Parsons Dance, will conduct a five-day summer intensive workshop at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity Aug. 4 through 8. The workshop is being presented in association with the Kansas City Ballet.

“Really, it was an idea of mine because I came a couple of years ago and saw that incredible space, the Todd Bolender Center,” Parsons said. “I took a tour with Jeff Bentley (executive director of the Kansas City Ballet), and as an artist who makes his work in New York, man, it was a shock to the system.

“Here in New York, when you’re making a dance, you’re stuck in a studio that’s always confining. The studios are depressing and oppressive. You’re lucky if you get a decent view or a window at all. But the Bolender Center has an airiness and openness and light that is just conducive to making work. And the historic context of it is spectacular.”

Parsons, 54, was raised in Kansas City before leaving in 1977 to pursue his career in dance. And what a career it has been, from dancing with the Paul Taylor Dance Company to founding his own company in 1985.

Parsons Dance first toured in 1988, and Richard Harriman, a longtime supporter of the performing arts, made sure it made a stop in Kansas City to appear on the Harriman-Jewell Series. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Parsons’ group has appeared more times on the Harriman-Jewell Series than any other dance company. Next June, Parsons Dance will make its 12th appearance to help the series celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Parsons first shared his idea for a Kansas City summer workshop with Clark Morris, the executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series. Morris then called Bentley at the Kansas City Ballet to see if they were interested in being the sponsor.

“Absolutely I was interested,” Bentley said. “I’ve known David for a really long time, ever since I presented him on the Aspen Dance Festival in the 1980s. He’s charming, he’s one of those bigger-than-life artists that you really like having around. His international reputation and presence does nothing but help us in terms of our own recognition, nationally and hopefully around the world.”

The workshop will be open to students ages 14 and up. It should be of special interest to high schoolers, college students, pre-professionals and dance teachers who want to supplement their training with some Parsons style.

And what exactly is that Parsons style?

“Well, first of all, it’s incredibly physical,” Parsons said. “My style has become something that is known worldwide. It’s evolved over all these years. Dancers in the business know Parsons arms. You know, like people have ballet arms, we communicate with a whole vocabulary of arms.”

Bentley says that Parsons’ energetic and athletic choreography is part of a lineage that is both highly modern and profoundly classical.

“If you look at that family tree, from David to Paul Taylor, and Paul Taylor to Martha Graham, it’s the royalty of American dance,” Bentley said. “His work is highly complicated. To my mind, it’s technically based in the same manner that classical ballet is based. It’s a modern dance company, but I would describe that as rooted in a classical base, which requires a lot of discipline, a lot of understanding about movement.”

Both Parsons and Bentley are hopeful that the workshop will become an annual event. Bentley thinks it has the potential to become a nationally known workshop, attracting students from all over the United States.

Nothing would make Parsons happier, as he takes great pride in his hometown’s growing stature as an arts powerhouse.

“Kansas City is now a world-class city, and it didn’t used to be,” Parsons said. “Parsons Dance tours all over the world. We’re down in South America in major cities, Sao Paolo, Brazil; Chile and China. We tour all over, and let me tell you, word gets around about Kansas City. People hear about the boulevards, they hear about the fountains, they hear about the Nelson art museum, they hear about the Kauffman Center, they hear about the revitalization of downtown. It’s a reality, man.”

To register for the workshop, call 212-869-9275 or visit www.parsonsdance.org. Registration is open until close of business on Aug. 1.

Miami String Quartet

Violinist Benny Kim is not only an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, he’s also a member of the Miami String Quartet.

Every summer, Kim and the other members of the ensemble work with students in the Heartland Chamber Music Festival at Johnson County Community College. As part of the festival and as an added gift to the community, the Miami String Quartet always offers an affordably priced concert open to the public.

This year’s concert will take place Wednesday in JCCC’s Yardley Hall. The quartet will perform works by three Czech composers: Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Erwin Schulhoff.

Schulhoff was composing in the early 1930s, but being a Jew and a radical leftist, he inevitably ran afoul of the Nazis. In 1941, he was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria, where he died in 1942 from tuberculosis.

Schulhoff’s music displays a wide variety of influences, but even at its most modern, it remains firmly rooted in tonality. He was only 48 when he died, and although he left a sizable body of work, he obviously had much more to offer. Schulhoff is one of classical music’s most tragic stories.

Performance 7 p.m. Wednesday, Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College. Tickets $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Call 913-469-4445 or go to www.jccc.edu/theseries.

Patrick Neas is a program director for RadioBach.com. You can reach him at pneas@jccc.edu.

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