New York Live Arts presents The Bang Group

The Bang Group
in the holiday favorite
December 21-23 at 7:30pm
December 23 at 2:00pm

New York, NY, November 16, 2011 – New York Live Arts presents The Bang Group in Nut/Cracked – the contemporary dance world’s beloved version of The Nutcracker – on December 21-23 at 7:30pm and a matinee performance on December 23 at 2:00pm. Nut/Cracked is presented in New York Live Arts’ Replay Series. (more…)

Thumbs up to a thinking man’s Nutcracker

Your average urban Nutcracker takes one of two paths from studio to stage. A big ballet company invites students from its affiliated school to take part in a big production; the kids get to leap into the talent pool, mentored by star ballerinas. Or a neighborhood studio stages its own version of the 19th-century chestnut, sometimes inviting a couple of ringers to dance the leading roles.

David Parker’s Nut/Cracked resembles neither of these. He has no school and there are no ballerinas to speak of. Parker’s ensemble, the Bang Group, consists of four regulars, three of whom are men. Their primary technical expertise involves tap dancing. All of them are pretty deft on pointe, whether they’re wearing the pink satin shoes on feet or hands.  But they view the shoes primarily as percussion instruments.

It’s a back-to-basics project. Jeffrey Kazin, co-artistic director of The Bang Group and a colleague of Parker’s since they met in Gail Conrad’s tap ensemble in 1987, says all the props and costumes can fit in one bag, if they have a really good production manager. “Otherwise it takes two. You’d be astounded at how much room the bubble wrap takes up.”

Along with the pointe shoes, bubble wrap replaces conventional metal taps as a noisemaking device. Most of the dancing is neo-vaudevillian soft shoe, performed barefoot.  Instead of an enormous tree that becomes gargantuan, this version has a young boy lying supine on the floor under a blanket that slowly starts to tent, revealing a tiny evergreen. The kid stands and points the tree over his head; when he’s stretched to full height, it lights up.

But Nut/Cracked shares with its fluffier cousins the impulse to include local children; it tours widely, and wherever it goes the Bang Group finds a school or a studio or a university willing to send over crews of eager kids. For a recent show in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, young performers were recruited from a local charter school and from the Muhlenberg College dance program. Here in Manhattan, where the piece celebrates its 10th season, students from Dalton, the Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, and two Brooklyn programs, Dancewave and BAX, expand the cast.

Both neo-vaudeville and neo-burlesque, Nut/Cracked takes its inspiration from all corners of the dance world and all facets of Parker’s eclectic sensibility. The piece had its genesis a decade ago, when Italian presenter Gianni Bruno suggested that Parker do a wholeNutcracker in the spirit of his legendary Suck. “People here thought that thumb sucking duet was too sexy or scary,” says Parker. “In Europe it was loved. Pina Bausch loved it.”

Contemplating Bruno’s suggestion, Parker discovered novelty recordings of the Tchaikovsky score, which provided the entree into a more rhythmically based version, much more in tune with David’s sensibilities and his musicality. One thing led to another, many of them “greatest hits” from across Parker’s career, which began after he dropped out of Bard College and moved to New York in 1979.

The first version premiered in Genoa in 2003, with a cast of five. It’s been growing and changing for almost 10 years; 2012 marks its sixth season on the Bessie Schonberg stage.

Conceptually, says Parker, “Nut/Cracked has to do with presents. In each section a dancer gets a present that allows him or her to change into some kind of a performer. A couple of dances are about greed: fighting over the presents.”

Oddly, there is no nutcracker in Nut/Cracked.

The 70-minute piece has 22 scenes, danced and sung to a mixture of recorded versions of Tchaikovsky’s score by such luminaries as Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, some in a cool jazz mode, one actually Klezmer, others your standard Muzak holiday variations. Parker himself opens the show in a Santa hat and a shaving-cream beard, doing a tap riff to a Tchaikovsky melody as recorded by Fred Waring. Later on he morphs into a Drosselmeier figure, wearing a cutaway frock coat over the white T-shirt and black track pants that are the default costume for the entire cast.

Parker takes what he needs from the entire dance canon. He wrenches the context from silly to sublime, from infantile pleasures to thorny, horny adolescent sexuality. Tap riffs mingle freely with ballet steps; Parker studies regularly with Janet Panetta, renowned as the ballet mistress for Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal.

“This is the most secular Nutcracker,” says Kazin. “It has no story; it barely has gender. The Bang Group has a mission to dismantle the hierarchy of dance. The whole production is about allowing one’s fantasies to play out on a stage, to be Fred Astaire or Makarova or La Meida.”

He points to The Bang Group’s “disinterest in creating a specific look, a specific type of dancer. I’ve got kids just out of college, old, young, new, been-around: a very eclectic group. That points to the universality of it, as well as the inclusiveness of it.”

Cross-dressing has often been a part of big fairy-tale ballets; Parker and Kazin themselves have played the wicked stepsisters in a vest-pocket version of Cinderella, but in Nut/Cracked more than just clothing gets switched. When both men and women are on pointe, who’s the supporting partner? Parker has produced the love child of George Balanchine, Busby Berkeley and Trisha Brown, exploiting all kinds of movement material from thumb-sucking to the grand final pas de deux, which here is a trio. “There’s no drag,” says Parker.  “The men wear toe shoes but they wear them as men. It has an innocence. Regular audiences don’t seem to care that it’s gay. It has a gay sensibility in the old fashioned, musical theater, camp sense—the mixing of styles, exaggerated theatricality as its own kind of truth.”

Musical comedy is the air he breathes; both Parker and Kazin grew up in Boston suburbs, watching musicals on TV after school.  Parker’s parents took him to see the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker. “It’s very festive and kind of Victorian, and it goes all over the place; I liked that chaotic spirit. Balanchine is so austere in comparison.”

But he saw Balanchine’s version on television, hosted by Eddie Albert. “He was introducing ballet to kids in prime time: a collision of high and low culture. I didn’t feel that ballet was a remote, distant art form: it was side by side with other variety acts in the same world. Nut/Cracked is a way to bring all those things together.”

–          Elizabeth Zimmer

Elizabeth Zimmer writes about dance, theater, and books for Ballet ReviewDance MagazineMetro, and other publications. She served as dance editor of The Village Voicefrom 1992 until 2006, and reviewed ballet for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1997 through 2005. She has reviewed dance in cities across North America, and taught writing and dance history at several universities. From 1979 to 1980 she was the Executive Director of the American Dance Guild, and since 1993 she has taught the Kamikaze dance writing workshop at schools and at annual conferences of the Dance Critics Association and ACDFA. Having earned a B.A. in Literature from Bennington College and an M.A. in English from SUNY Stony Brook, she has also studied many forms of dance, especially contact improvisation with its founders. She edited Body Against Body: The Dance and other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane (Station Hill Press, 1989) and Envisioning Dance for Film and Video (Routledge, 2002), and developed a dance history curriculum for teachers in urban schools.Her one-woman show, North Wing, played at two off-off-Broadway theaters, and she has appeared in the work of Christopher Williams and Kriota Willberg.

New York Live Arts presents The Barnard Project

The Barnard Project
Ivy Baldwin, Sidra Bell, David Parker, Susan Rethorst
December 1-3 at 7:30pm
December 3 at 2:00pm

New York, NY, October 26, 2011 – New York Live Arts presents The Barnard Project featuring Barnard College and Columbia University students in the works of Ivy Baldwin, Sidra Bell, David Parker, and Susan Rethorst on December 1-3 at 7:30pm and December 3 at 2:00pm. (more…)