Review: Parsons Dance Spins and Darts Through Miles Davis

The combination of the choreographer Jamar Roberts and jazz is a dance land you want to live in. Roberts, a veteran of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has made some of his most succinct yet passionate works to jazz. His voluptuous movement, however sharp or delicate, flows on waves of musical notes.

In his latest jazz-inspired work, “Juke,” a premiere for Parsons Dance, bodies bend and dart with shuddering briskness as the dancers dig into what it means to juke, or to fake a move — like in sports. One by one, they dodge, slip and outmaneuver the music, “Spanish Key” from Miles Davis’s groundbreaking 1970 album “Bitches Brew,” with its rock and funk influences. The dancers, twisting and spinning — sometimes agile, like boxers — fill the stage like brushstrokes, some rapturous and others cutting.

“Juke,” which had its debut on Tuesday, is one of three premieres being presented by Parsons Dance in its two-week season at the Joyce Theater. Does it expand the art of dance, as Davis’s album did for jazz? Not especially, but for much of it, “Juke” gives the Parsons dancers a frame for pure movement and music: a swelling, ever spiraling showcase of psychedelic funk.

The driving sound has a way of meshing with Roberts’s spiky gestures in surprising ways: Elbows poke, hips swivel, the arms ignite the air like matchsticks. Costumes, by Christine Darch, pay homage to the time Davis’s album came out. Dancers wear pants and tops, adorned with fringe, in glowing purples and reds that bleed right into Christopher S. Chambers’s moody lighting. The stage is like a den.

But as trios and couples start to enact little scenarios, over-before-you-know-it scuffles can turn trite. Parsons members dance more capably than they act; the same force they use to propel, say, their legs, doesn’t carry the same effect in their faces. The ending, in which a male dancer is gradually abandoned by the others, feels a little anticlimactic. With a little salute, he fades into the background. Did he outsmart the others, or did they just give up?

In David Parson’s “The Shape of Us,” which also premiered, dancers embrace the beauty of each other and of their community ties.Credit…Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
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