Choreography is basic for American utopia, A high-octane but minimalist stage show by David Byrne. Byrne leads a group of 11 musicians through almost two hours of dancing (they carry their instruments rather than being tied to them) as opposed to a sharp, white set, draped only with a chain curtain. The effect is an intense exposure to relentless human movement.
“David rejects rock show’s messy platform – strings, technology, bottles of water,” says Annie B. Parson, US choreographer American utopia, a live adaptation of Byrne ‘s solo album of the same name in 2018. “He cleans the whole scene, he cleans it. “Except for bodies in space.”
The show was a huge success, taking place last year at the Hudson Theater on Broadway after a nine-month world tour, and is now the subject of a Spike Lee film. Broade returned to Broadway in September 2021. How specific was Byrne about what he wanted? “Not at all,” said Parson, an elegant figure with perfect posture, speaking to FT from her Brooklyn home. “He gave me the task from start to finish. He just said, here you are. “My job is to understand dimensionally where he is.”
The effect is astonishing, not least because Byrne, 68, and most of his team are untrained dancers. But Parsons is not worried about opposing tough, physical performance from amateurs. She has worked with art-rock musicians, including David Bowie and St. Vincent, and once choreographed 1,000 singers performing works by minimalist composer David Lang. “I have built some muscles around working with amateurs.”
Parson founded York York-based Big Dance with her husband Paul Lazar in 1991. She is known for her ambitious productions with seemingly inappropriate recommendations, and Parson is often described as a postmodern choreographer. She does not have a fever on the label.
“I have no problem with that. “All those ideas about the decentralization of space, it is much more postmodern to take the important thing out of the center of the room.” It refers to the “democracy” of American utopia, with Byrne leading his musicians on the move, instead of taking the “necessary place of a rock star” as a solo superstar.
Another example is her staging of the 2014-16 Saint Vincent World Tour. “I did not bring it to the center of the lower stage until song number eight. That gave the audience time to wake her up in different spaces, and then they earned the right to finally have her in that space across the center.
“It’s a postmodern concept, like John Cage, who says that every place in the house is perfect, even if the view is blocked and Mercy Cunningham takes away the hierarchy of the central stage. “Those ideas were in the drinking water of my training.”
A Burn fan since she danced at a college in Connecticut in the early 1980s (when she first saw Byrne on a Talking Heads tour Stop making sensealso filmed for cinema), Parson is a longtime collaborator. Lee’s film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, is “98 percent faithful” to stage production, Parson said. Her role was mainly to advise the director and his cinematographer Ellen Kuras. “They both have choreographic minds,” she said. “I think [Lee] he could choreograph if he wanted to – and he’s definitely a dancer. His dancing in Malcolm H. is off the charts. ”
But Lee also develops Byrne and Parsons’ vision of relentless energy, with a moment of deep reflection and silence. Lee includes family members of people killed by US police violence against Byrne’s cover of Elleanel Mona’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout”. Each of them has a photo of their dead loved one.
„[Lee] just asked them to stop there. And he works with rest and time. “There is a certain amount of patience and honor in that lack of movement.”
This week, she is working with untrained dancers again as she returns to Dance Umbrella, the 42nd edition of the London International Choreography Festival. Parson has been working on her virtual residence for three weeks. One of three in a series called Made at home, The project finds her teaching 16 volunteer dancers from countries including Chile, Barbados, the United States and the United Kingdom over Zoom to create a short film, which will be shown online this Thursday (November 26th). It is a virtual work of necessity, but the project offered some excitement from the live performance.
“I’m not sure we’re replacing that common energy loop we get with live audiences. “But in teaching, there is definitely a sharing of ideas that is exactly what you hope to have.”
Emma Gladstone, the festival’s artistic director, says she loved Parsons because “she is one of the more intellectual choreographers, but her work still attracts audiences.
“And to be so successful in moving from contemporary dance to commercial is an indicator of her ability to collaborate and respond.” “In general, everyone performs well when they know how to be on stage, and that reflects her clarity in thinking as a choreographer and the confidence she has in her performers.”
The distance training was a “struggle” for Parsons, but it focused on composition and working with, instead of opposing, the limitations of technology and the home settings of her volunteers, “using the kitchen in a way [Bauhaus choreographer] “Oscar Schlemmer would use a diagonal suit.”
“One student was always in her kitchen, one in her bedroom, one near the stairs, one always in the backyard. I started with concepts of weight, focus and kinesphere. The small volume, which I thought was suitable for zooming. “And it turned out to be very moving.”
Byrne, Parson says, is a “gold mine of dance ideas.” American utopiathe choreographic recommendations were very diverse: Japanese bunraku puppetry, Indian street dance, dada, Chris Marker movies. But her Dance Umbrella group attracted a lot of different energy.
The group met on November 2, the day before the US election, and it says the latest work will reflect the collective anxiety felt by its members at the time. “The world will always create a lens around whatever you do. “Within the domestic space, we have experienced this huge, uncertain transformation.”
What does Parson expect from the audience? “Dance as an important kinesthetic statement. “A basic part of art.”
Dance Umbrella Digital lasts until November 27, danceumbrella.co.uk
The film “American Utopia” will be available for download in the UK from December 14