Legendary Troupe Parsons Dance Wows Midlands Audiences with Meaningful and Classic Performances

Monday, October 24, 2016 - 6:30am

NYC-based company explodes into the Midlands with two performances featuring new and classic repertoire; offers workshops for dancers along autism spectrum


A six-minute dance wherein the dancer never touches the floor. A story told solely through the movement of hands floating from their bodies by the darkness. Lindyhop, sweeping partnerwork reminiscent of Eastern European celebrations, tightly entwined samba. What began in 1985 as a partnership between choreographer and lighting designer has, over the decades, evolved into the hub of innovative partnership that is Parsons Dance. The company will revisit its greatest hits and share its newest creations when it takes the stage for a public performance at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College on Friday, November 18 at 7:30 PM; and for a “relaxed performance” tailored for audiences along the autism spectrum, on Saturday, November 19 at 10 AM.

The company, originally formed by choreographer David Parsons and Tony-award-winning lighting designer Hal Binkley, is known for its energized, athletic, ensemble work; and for its collaborations, including those with iconic artists such as Billy Taylor, Milton Nascimento, Allen Toussaint, William Ivey Long, Donna Karan, Annie Leibovitz, and Alex Katz.  The company has toured more than 383 cities, 22 countries, and five continents for the most notable theatres, festivals, and presenters worldwide including The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Maison de la Danse, Teatro La Fenice, and Teatro Muncipal do Rio de Janeiro. 

Parsons Dance continues to pursue its mission to deliver positive, affirming, life-enriching experiences to audiences worldwide by maintaining a repertory of over 75 works by David Parsons and producing his new work; by inviting established choreographers to re-stage works from the American canon on the company; and by commissioning young American choreographers with their newly launched GenerationNOW Fellowship.

During their time in Columbia, there are multiple opportunities to engage with the legendary ensemble through workshops and performances. The pieces featured for performance at Harbison Theatre are:

Finding Center

Finding Center was commissioned by the Harriman-Jewell Series to commemorate its 50th season of bringing the best of the performing arts to Kansas City.  Very special thanks to long time-friend and collaborator, Rita Blitt, whose exhibition “Finding Center” provided true inspiration for the work. 

The exhibition, Finding Center, focuses on a group of pastels and paintings created within a five-year period (1981-85). The pastels, paintings, and sculptures included in the exhibition explore the shape, nature, and spirit of the oval or circle, an element that has been consistent in Blitt’s drawings and sculptures since the 1960s. The series of pastel ovals began one morning in 1981. In front of a blank piece of paper, Blitt poised her hands, armed with conté crayons, at the bottom of the page. By this point in her practice, Blitt had already been making marks with both hands simultaneously, creating whimsical quasi-symmetrical line drawings. This particular day, she brought her hands up slowly, synchronized, arching to nearly graze the right and left edges of the paper, until her thumbs met at the apex. The resulting shape formed by the two separate but equal marks was an oval. She stopped and stood back from her drawing. Blitt describes having felt a deep sense of completion, wholeness, as though she had arrived at a final destination.

Hand Dance

Hand Dance features ten dancing hands, visually detached from their bodies by highly focused lighting. Performed to an amusing “hoedown” score for strings, arranged by Kenji Bunch for the Ahn Trio, Hand Dance transforms palms, fingers and thumbs into an array of shapes, forms and characters that move individually and in tandem. The hands form images of train pistons, Olympic divers, air guitar players and more. Full of subtle humor as well as broad physical comedy, Hand Dance is popular with audiences of all ages.

Swing Shift

Swing Shift, a dance for four couples, celebrates moves popularized by mid-20th century sock hops and swing dancing.  Swing Shift requires dancers to maintain close proximity in order to move intricately about one another.  Swing Shift shifts moods as well as moves, at times uplifting and celebratory; at other times sultry or sensual. The original music for Swing Shift was composed by Kenji Bunch.


Almah, Kate Skarpetowksa’s new work, which has an original score by Ljova and premiered at the Joyce Theater in January 2016. It explores the juxtaposition of an eastern European childhood with the urban folklore of adolescence in NYC. The choreography highlights the extension and full-body movement that is the hallmark of current Parsons aesthetic.


David Parsons’ stroboscopic masterpiece, Caught, features more than 100 leaps in six minutes by a solo dancer who is repeatedly trapped in mid-motion by the strobe lights, creating an illusion of flight.  After thousands of performances, worldwide, for nearly thirty years, Caught continues to thrill audiences at every performance. 


Milton Nascimento is one of Brazil’s most celebrated contemporary musicians and composers. David Parsons’ dance, Nascimento, is a tribute to his friend, Milton Nascimento, and his exuberant original music. Parsons uses sophisticated spatial patterns to compliment Nascimento’s colorful samba rhythms. The dancers sweep across a broad stage in bright costumes while saturated by light, to deliver a lively, fast-paced and emotionally charged performance. The musical score for Nascimento was a special gift to Parsons Dance from Milton Nascimento.

In addition to choreography and performance, Parsons Dance engages audiences of all ages through education and outreach programs. The company regularly hosts post-show discussions, open rehearsals, studio showcases and open company classes. For the past two years, the company has developed a workshop and performance series for dancers and dance fans along the autism spectrum. The availability of this work sparked a local partnership that has begun to deepen access to dance instruction and performance for Midlands residents who live along the autism spectrum.

“We believe that everyone is a dancer,” says Harbison Theatre Executive Director Katie Fox. “Some dancers thrive in studios with loud music and lots of physical contact with their instructor. Others thrive in a different environment. Through our partnership with the SC Autism Society, Parsons Dance, and Columbia College, we’re building a community where everyone can feel comfortable in dance class and at dance performances.”

The partnership is three-fold. In September, instructors from the education department of Columbia College and from the SC Autism Society led a full-day workshop for dance instructors employed in public schools and at dance studios. Participants studied the neurological and behavioral characteristics of people with autism, and re-designed their classroom pedagogy to better meet the needs of students with autism.

During October, experienced dance educator Terrance Henderson led two fun, pressure-free workshops for dancers along the spectrum (no prior experience necessary!) Teachers from the September session served as side coaches while dancers 7-years-and-older bent, twisted, and rolled their way through new moves. A third workshop will be facilitated by dancers from Parsons Dance on November 16.  Caregivers are welcome to stay as participants or observers, and families will be invited back at the end of class for “show and tell.”

Participants in one or more of these workshops will be awarded a certificate of participation on stage at the end of the Parsons Dance Relaxed Performance on Saturday, November 19. We encouraged families to take part in as many activities as possible in this series, but there was and is no requirement to attend all opportunities.

Workshops will take place in the Godbold Center on the campus of Columbia College. For more information on the remaining workshop, please visit: http://www.harbisontheatre.org/tickets-productions/dance-class-dancers-along-autism-spectrum 

Finally, Parsons will round out their Midlands residency with a relaxed performance on Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 10 AM. Relaxed performances are designed to welcome people who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory or communication disorder. Relaxed performances offer a manageable degree of sensory stimuli, space to temporarily "chill out" during the performance, and the opportunity to preview the experience via photos and theatre visits.  Audience members interested in the relaxed performance are encouraged to call the Box Office at 803.407.5011 to purchase tickets.  These tickets are unavailable online.

Ticketing Details

Individual show tickets as well as packages are available now at www.HarbisonTheatre.org. Buyers may also order tickets via phone at 803.407.5011 or in person at the Harbison Theatre Box Office, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM. The box office also will open two hours prior to each show.

This performance is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

About Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College

Rooted in the performing arts, Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College offers programs and productions that encourage reflection, examination and discovery; and that provide entertainment, education and opportunity to professionals, learners and community members in all stages of life. To learn about upcoming events, purchase tickets, or pursue sponsorship and volunteer opportunities with Harbison Theatre, please visit harbisontheatre.org.

Harbison Theatre on Facebook: facebook.com/HarbisonTheatre

Harbison Theatre on Twitter: twitter.com/HarbisonTheatre

About Midlands Technical College

Midlands Technical College (MTC) is a comprehensive, multi-campus, public, two-year college serving Richland, Lexington and Fairfield counties of South Carolina. The fifth-largest provider of higher education in South Carolina and the largest provider of transfer students to the University of South Carolina, MTC enrolls approximately 16,000 credit students annually. The college’s Corporate and Continuing Education program, one of the largest and most comprehensive in the Southeast, annually has 25,000 enrollments and provides continuing education to hundreds of area businesses each year. midlandstech.edu

# # #