PS21 brings dance to new performance space

Chatham, N.Y. — When the apples start ripening on the trees, it's time for PS21 to start dancing. Each August, the Chatham Dance Festival brings big-city contemporary dance companies to PS21's rural venue located in an old orchard.

This year, the festival will occupy PS21's new state-of-the-art theater, replacing the temporary saddle-span concert tent that was home for 12 seasons. The breeze-cooled, open-sided theater, built from golden cedar and natural concrete, boasts commanding views of the fruiting trees and Hudson Valley countryside.

Parsons Dance is celebrating its 13th season at PS21. The company has performed annually since the venue began, an enthusiastic fan base drawing it back year after year to its summer home. In years past, Parsons has developed new work and educational initiatives during two extended PS21 residencies with his company of international dancers hailing from Cuba to Spain.

"We're proud of the following the company has at places around the world, and we love to get to communities that don't see a lot of dance," said David Parsons from Tokyo, taking a short break from leading his company of 35 years to choreograph a new musical with "Les Miserables" director John Caird.

Over the years, Parsons has built a special relationship with Judy Grunberg, PS21 president and creative driving force. "We really enjoy each other's company," he said. He relishes the chance to leave New York City and enjoy nature — and, this summer, get ready for an upcoming 27-city tour of China, he said.

Architect Evan Stoller consulted with Parsons during the building design phase of the new theater, Parsons said. After a decade in the tent, having backstage facilities, a bigger stage, dedicated dance floor and enhanced technology allows Parsons and Tony Award-winning lighting designer and company co-founder Howell Binkley to expand their technical staging.

On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, Parsons Dance will present a New Orleans-style evening, with a piece commissioned to music by late NOLA legend Allen Toussaint and a Trey Macintyre work with music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. There's also an original score by tabla player Avi Sharma, who Parsons first met in Chatham.

But no visit to PS21 would be complete without the company's signature work, "Caught," a solo with strobe lighting that fuses technology and art. "It's very beautiful," said Grunberg, "You really believe the dancer is floating in air and running in space."

Three new companies will visit this summer's festival. On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 10 and 11, dancer and former Cirque Du Soleil performer Bill Shannon will entertain and inspire as he incorporates the crutches he uses, due to a childhood hip deformity, into his artistic expression.

In his solo semi-autobiographical clown theater piece, "Maker Moves," Shannon plays a street busker performing maneuvers on homemade crutches for an evening of absurdist physical comedy, moving with acrobatic ease on foot and skateboard to a sonic backdrop of hip-hop and breakbeats.

Exploring the 30-year evolution of physical supports that help him perform gravity-defying feats, Shannon demonstrates how countering failure with determined innovation can result in triumphant success. Shannon will also perform a free 45-minute family show at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, in the weekly "Just for Fun" series.

NYC-based Dusan Tynek Dance Theatre debuts at PS21 on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 17 and 18, with two works. Chess and 19th-century cafe society inspire "Middlegame," conjuring a world of strategy and seduction. "Romanesco Suite" explores natural fractals and geometric shapes, accompanied by the sound of 17-year cicadas. It's an upstate homecoming for Czech-born Tynek, who attended Bard College in the next county over.

The festival concludes on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24 and 25, with The Bang Group performing David Parker's eclectic, entertaining and rhythmic new work, "Mouthful of Shoes," spanning ballet to vaudeville with toe and tap shoes, bare feet — and Velcro suits. Music ranges from Mozart to Stravinsky and Steve Reich, plus body percussion and live violin.

"We've always had a minimum of three dance companies every summer; all groups very different from each other," said Grunberg, who grew up in New York City watching companies from around the world with her mother.

"Dance is probably the least accessible of the performing arts for most people, so I wanted to have something fresh and different from anything else around," she said.


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