Ross Parkes, right, teaching in Shanghai in 1983. Lan-Lan Wang is at left. Courtesy Lan-Lan Wang.

Ross Parkes (1940-2019) Brought Graham Technique to China

Notable dancer and beloved teacher, Ross Parkes, 79, passed away on August 5, 2019 in New York City. He was a founding faculty member at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan, where he taught from 1984 to 2006. Lin Hwai-min, artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, said: "He nurtured two generations of dancers in Taiwan, and his legacy will continue."

About his dancing, Tonia Shimin, professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara and producer of Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance, said this: "He was an exquisite, eloquent dancer who inhabited his roles completely."

Born in Sydney, Australia, Parkes began his training there with Valrene Tweedie (known as Irina Lavrova when she was with the Original Ballet Russe). Before coming to the United States he appeared in musicals and cabaret in Australia, England, Spain and France. In 1964 he received a scholarship from Martha Graham to train in New York City. He danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1965 to 1976, becoming a principal in 1972 and associate artistic director in 1974. He started dancing with Mary Anthony Dance Theater in 1966 and served as associate artistic director—dancing and choreographing—from 1975 to 1984. He also appeared in the companies of Sophie Maslow, Helen McGehee, Bertram Ross, Glen Tetley and the New York City Opera. Remarkably, he was also a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet from 1965 to 1971. In1968, Don McDonagh began his review of Pennsylvania Ballet with the question "What, you might ask, is a modern dancer like Ross Parkes doing in a ballet company?" By the end of the review, he called Parkes a "magnificent dancer."

In Mary Anthony's In the Beginning, Adam, 1969. Kenn Duncan, Courtesy Gwendolyn Bye

In 1983, Lan-Lan Wang, who then directed the U.S.–China Dance Exchange Program at the University of Iowa, invited Parkes to China under the auspices of the China Dancers' Association. He taught a 12-day intensive in Graham technique in Beijing—the first official modern dance workshop held in China after the Cultural Revolution. He also taught in Shanghai and Guangzhou and traveled with Wang to other parts of China. This trip left a lasting mark on the development of modern dance in China, and Guangzhou eventually became the first Chinese city to have a modern dance company.

The following year, when Lin Hwai-Min was looking for a rehearsal director, Wang suggested Parkes. He relocated to Taiwan, where he served as rehearsal director of Cloud Gate as well as professor of dance at Taipei National University of the Arts (formerly National Institute of the Arts). In 2012 the University bestowed Parkes with an Honorary Doctorate.

Fang-Yi Sheu, the great Graham dancer (from 1995–2006) from Taiwan, who graced the Dance Magazine cover as a "25 to Watch" in 2007, feels indebted to him. In an email, she wrote: "Mr. Parkes's words were always gentle yet weighty. He brought discipline to a most rebellious student not through punishment, but by living what he preached. In his classroom, one need not seek to please, but to simply learn self-respect and self-love. 'This kid's got potential!' he said one day. Whether he was referring to my dancing that day or to my future, "potential" became his challenge—to which I have tried to answer, with my whole life, my whole being, 'Strength!' I count myself the luckiest to have been his student."

Bulareyaung Pagarlave, a Taiwanese indigenous choreographer who also had studied with Parkes, told this story on Facebook: When he (Pagarlave) came to New York in 1998 and took class with Pearl Lang, she was so impressed with his dancing that she stopped the class and asked where he was from. When she learned he had studied with Parkes, she told the rest of the class, "You should all go to Taiwan to study the Graham technique with Ross."

The American choreographer Elisa Monte posted this tribute in The New York Times's Classified obituary guestbook. "He has and will always be in my heart. He mentored me through my first years with Graham and helped me navigate the difficulties of developing into an artist. Always grateful for his support, knowledge, caring and vision. He was one of the great male dancers of the 20th century."

The cause of death was a heart attack. He is survived by his sister, Amanda Spiegel of Hong Kong, and two brothers, Rhys and Rory Parkes, of Sydney, Australia.

Written by Wendy Perron with information from Lan-Lan Wang and Gwendolyn Bye.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021