Parsons Dance Company

April 4, 2002

The Parsons Dance Company debuted Too Many Cooks.
Courtesy Parsons Dance Company

Parsons Dance Company

Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
April 4?6, 2002

Reviewed by Zachary Lewis

Few can compete with choreographer David Parsons when it comes to having fun with dance.

Too Many Cooks,
premiered recently by the Parsons Dance Company on a repertory program, is the latest product of his whimsical brain. This witty, mostly innocent work, commissioned by a group of colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, amounts to twenty minutes of pure, though substantial, folly.

Typical of his style, Parsons has mimicked every dimension of the music?its rhythms, tempo, moods, even specific pitches?and turned out a work that is the corporeal equivalent of its chosen soundtrack. Here, the corny, big-band-era tunes by Juan Garcia Esquivel, the Mexican pop composer, are quirky and comical in their own rights; Parsons has made them all the more so with his playful brand of dance. Perhaps that desire to revel in the music is what prompted Parsons to have originally called the work Esquivelesque.

His final choice of title is fitting, however. Too Many Cooks follows a kitchen-oriented plot, though one of little substance: A lead chef, in a pointy (and occasionally phallic) hat, tries to keep a bunch of clumsy sous-chefs and waiters on task. But every time she leaves the stage or turns her back, they cease cooking and begin to frolic and make faces. Their slapstick-style antics extend as far as standing on each others’ shoulders. Soon, the leader gives up her useless attempt at authority.

Amorous skits for two or more emerge from the confusion. There is a mock flamenco duet accentuated by chopping gestures. One of the funniest moments comes when a would-be grand love scene is continually interrupted as the music stops and starts. Much of Too Many Cooks leaves behind the practical function of food and explores its sensual qualities. In one duet, the dancers take turns pretending to eat off each other’s bodies while posed in mildly sexual positions.

Parsons has collaborated once again with lighting designer Howell Binkley. The costumes, designed by dancer Mia McSwain, are what one would see on actual servers and chefs at a fine restaurant. Some wear poofy white hats and coats; others wear aprons. At one point, four female dancers in alluring French maitre d’ outfits dangle themselves like so many sirens in front of one thoroughly overwhelmed kitchen hand. But this torture is accompanied by disturbingly upbeat surf music.

Parsons made many brilliant choices with Too Many Cooks. It’s based on the ingenious observation that familiar culinary motions like kneading, stirring, and dicing are prime material for use by a choreographer. But Parsons goes further and combines such gestures with acting skills from silent film. The result is direct, effective, and often very funny. The company itself turned in energetic performances that were, like the work as a whole, delightfully exaggerated but never over the top.