A Show Down With David Parker

Our Summer Intern, Gaby Mervis, interviewed David Parker, Artistic Director of David Parker and the Bang Group, about his newest creation, ShowDown. Summer Stages Dance partnered with award-winning chef Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant to present this innovative production in Cambridge, MA .

GM: Can you generally and briefly describe ShowDown?
DP: ShowDown is my choreographic reinvention of Irving Berlin's great musical Annie Get Your Gun for my company of 9 dancers. It is designed to be performed in very small spaces(15 square feet) so that we can offer it in cabaret, nightclub and restaurant settings which are places where people gather to enjoy themselves. This is important to me now. The piece breaks out the themes of the musical--the show down between men and women, the limitations of gender stereotypes, ambition, competition and the allure of show business--without using the conventional narrative or characters.

GM: How long have you been presenting ShowDown?
DP: ShowDown had its premiere in New York City at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in June. I also made a version of it for a wonderful contemporary dance company in Cleveland called Groundworks and have offered a sneak preview at Boston's First Night Festival last December.

GM: Why did you choose to dance to Annie Get Your Gun?
DP: A visionary producer named Robin Staff who commissioned this show for New York's Dance Now NYC asked me to do it because she saw me do a song and dance number from the show at a private event, the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents. She is initiating a series of all-dancing versions of famous musicals by contemporary choreographers at Joe's Pub in New York. The first was based on The Sound of Music. It is called Fraulein Maria and was choreographed by Doug Elkins. I dance in that too. I play Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp daughter.

GM: Did each of the dancers represent specific characters in the musical or did you just use its music?
DP: There are no specific characters from the musical itself in my version but I think that each of the dancers in my work has created a character that is quite distinct. Amber Sloan plays a character who is closest to Annie herself but also Nic Petry plays another slightly more whimsical Annie. The fluidity of gender roles and couples is a very key element in the show.

GM: Did dancing in jeans prove to be difficult?
DP: The jeans have a bit of stretch in them, but yes, it is difficult and there was much moaning about the hardship. Fortunately, I get to dance in a formal suit instead.

GM: There are many guy-guy lifts, do you find them easier or more difficult or how is it different than guy-girl lifts?
DP: I think it's pretty much equal in terms of difficulty, some men are very good at being lifted, which is traditionally the woman's role, and some are better at doing the lifting. The biggest difference is in the minds of the audience in terms of what this suggests to them. Does it mean something different for a man to give his weight to another man than when a woman does it? For me it's just a natural way of relating.

GM: Was your entire company in this performance?
DP: Almost, Marta Miller who is in the original cast, injured her shoulder (picking up a bag of mulch, not dancing) and wasn't able to do this set of shows. She'll be back soon.

GM: How long does it take to put on a show from first rehearsal to first show?
DP: I began working on this show in July 2007.

GM: Do you have specific dancers in mind when you choreograph or do you match it later?
DP: No, everyone learns all the movement material and then I see what directions it takes and what suits which dancer. I did always know that I wanted Amber and Nic to be very central in this piece because they were both in periods of great artistic expansion.

GM: If you had to classify your choreography as one type of dance, what would it be?
DP: Contemporary. That means it can include anything.

GM: Who is one choreographer that you look up to?
DP: Merce Cunningham.

GM: Why did you start choreographing?
DP: I was very much turned-on by seeing the movie That's Entertainment when I was 15. It exposed me to the richness and depth of the dancing done in Hollywood in the first half (or so) of the last century. It was an explosion of creativity and beauty.

GM: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it?
DP: Yes, as often as possible.

GM: How has your tap background influenced your choreography?
DP: It has made me extraordinarily sensitive to time and rhythm and shown me the possibilities of extreme precision in the use of time. Tapdancing breaks down beats into astonishingly dense and complex patterns and has a baroque level of complexity which I find exhilarating.

GM: Do you require your dancers to have a tap background?
DP: No, but they have to have a brilliant sense of rhythm and they have to love rigor. Only about half the company has a tap or percussive dance background.

GM: What is your typical audience?
DP: That depends on the venue. In Boston we have reached a wide and "general" audience, while in New York my audience is much more dance-world people. On tour I'm marketed as being accessible and entertaining to general audiences. I think my ideal audience is simply comprised of people who love responding kinesthetically.

GM: Is the bonus dance that I saw you perform in the main show as well?
DP: Yes.

Tell us about it.
DP: It's the song and dance I performed for my parents' anniversary that I mentioned above and I also think it is very topical with regard to same sex marriage and updating traditions.

GM: Have you ever sang in one of your pieces before?
DP: Yes, I've sung in several of my pieces but mostly in a somewhat satirical way. This is the first time I'm doing it...um..."straight".

GM: Why did you decide to do it as a same-sex couple?
DP: Mostly because I'm gay and I think of it that way, but also because I knew it would make a good duet opportunity for both Jeff and me because we each sing and tap and are big old musical comedy queens.

GM: As you know, Monkeyhouse loves you, but how much do you love Monkeyhouse?
DP: I loves me some Monkeyhouse as much as I loves me my rhythm. All joking aside, I think Monkeyhouse is a fabulous phenomenon and enriches Boston's dance-and-performance scene immeasurably.

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