“I love this combination,” Byrne continues. Parson’s work “is nothing like what you usually see in a musical.”
With the use of gestures that aren’t quite natural but are never awkward, and with gradually building themes and rhythms, Parson’s choreography is also not what you usually see in straight theater. A warning to balletomanes: Though “Man in a Case,” at the Lansburgh Dec. 5-22, is by all accounts tightly choreographed, Baryshnikov dances very little. (“There’s a little tension with the audience around that,” Parson acknowledges.) He’s an actor, foremost.
It was the adventurous Baryshnikov, a longtime advocate of experimental performance, who approached Parson and Lazar with his idea of adapting Chekov short stories for the stage, rather than producing one of the writer’s well-known plays.
Parson and Lazar have “a kind of fresh approach, looking for a new language, and I’m interested in new theater,” he says. The two short stories, the title work and one other, “open the possibility of interpretation in movement.”
The stories “were something we could manipulate,” Parson says. “We could be a bit more disrespectful with the stories.”
On the subject of working with Baryshnikov, first she makes clear that “Man in a Case” is a Big Dance Theater work, using their designers and performers. It’s a company piece with the ballet star “in the middle of it.”
“And it’s nice to have new blood,” she says with a smile, as if she were praising a promising young intern.
‘The orchid in the garden’
Parson has no use for embellishments or decorative fluff. Nor is she interested in received wisdom, or in tiptoeing around any sensitivities, political, cultural, esthetic or otherwise.
Except for one.
“Dance is always the sacred object,” she says. “It’s the thing we start with. It’s the most important thing in the room, the most valued. Whether it’s 90 percent of the piece or, like in ‘Man in a Case,’ it’s 15 percent of the piece, it’s on the throne. You know what I mean?”
Perhaps her cool appraisal of dance as an art object, along with her heated devotion to it, stem from the fact that she discovered it relatively late, when she could analyze it as well as fall in love with it. She got herself to ballet lessons as soon as she had a driver’s license, at 16, studying at Gus Giordano Dance School in Evanston, Ill. She towered above the little children in her beginner’s class, but she stuck with ballet until she gave birth to her son at 35.