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ROCK ON: New Parsons work tells love story using dance, visuals, rock music and — opera

Choreographer David Parsons’ earnest new piece Remember Me takes as its ambition to do Jesus Christ Superstar and Movin’ Out one better, by creating not just rock-opera or rock-ballet but rock-opera-ballet. Its conceit seems reasonable enough: to tell a love story through dance in collaboration with singers of the East Village Opera Company, a group that in recent years has achieved fame/notoriety for creating big-boned rock versions of opera arias. The result, which the Harriman-Jewell Series presented at a sold-out Folly Theater on November 13, contains no small amount of interesting choreography and elaborately conceived, if at times skewed, scenic and lighting design. Yet the narrative of this 70-minute piece can only be described as quotidian, and the overwrought musical arrangements, performed live to recorded accompaniment by two singers who moved about the stage and interacted with the dancers, grew tiresome.

The piece is cast in 12 parts with a dashing, electric-guitar infused Marriage of Figaro Overture that introduces us to the characters. A young woman (Abby Silva) loves a fair-haired man (Zac Hammer), while shunning his swarthier brother, who also loves her (the amazing Miguel Quinones, who had begun the Harriman evening with an accomplished version of Parson’s show-stopping Caught.) The trio flirts against a round-dance (Rossini’s La Danza); Quinones tries to engage Silva in a dance but she instead breaks into unison with Hammer. Switch to night-scene, with a huge moon projected onto the stage-length screen above. Both men offer her the world, with bold encircling arm-gestures, then twist and roll around her in on the floor. EVOC’s Tyley Rossmoves about them, singing with his sweet but cloying, and heavily amplified, tenor.

Silva turns seductive and slinky to Bizet’s “Habanera,” grabbing her skirt erotically while Annmarie Milazzo sings in an attractive, Steisand-like voice, and the company claps flamenco-style against projections that resemble a lava lamp. At one remarkable point in the choreography, Silva walks up and down a sort of “spiral staircase” formed by a mass of dancers. The lights go up to a strip of fabric stretching nearly the width of the stage, under one end of which is a lump of bodies. Quinones mourns unrequited love, with elastic, balletic virtuosity, and soon we learn the lump is Silva and Hammer. To the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé the lovers roll themselves in the fabric. Quinones expresses his frustration in the mildly appropriate “La donne è mobile.”

Quinones kidnaps Silva and takes her to a cloister-like corridor of arched columns. He subdues her by force, in a remarkably tortured, complex duet. She dies to “Nessun dorma,” while eight dancers upstage are locked in a caterpillar-like row, palm-to-elbow, using their arms to create swooping lines and sine waves. They entrap her, then form a path to lead her to heaven while Hammer rotates himself on the floor. Back in the cloister, Silva breaks out of her immobility to regain her ballet technique; she dances with joy. At her funeral, to Ross’ particularly strident rendition of Purcell’s “When I am Laid in Earth,” the brothers fight, and Quinones kills Hammer, who joins Silva in heaven. Reunited, they and other couples form explosive patterns to the Madama Butterfly duet, and Ross sings the phrase “Love is everything” over and over again.

Parsons has infused Remember Me with an enormous amount of choreography, some of it quite arresting, but there’s so much of it that one feels overwhelmed at times. The sense of overload is fueled by the music: I am no snob when it comes to inventive new versions of the classics, but EVOC’s arrangements too often have a standard-issue, Broadway-rock banality to them. It was as if Parsons decided to graft the rock sensibilities of EVOC onto his own choreographic style, with diminishing results. Still, some paring-down of elements could make this a stronger work and perhaps ensure it some kind of future life.


Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.



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