Dance at Socrates: an interview with Brooklyn Ballet founder Lynn Parkerson

Norte Maar, Socrates Sculpture Park, Dance at Socrates, summer dance

Socrates Sculpture Park, internationally recognized for its large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations, partners with Norte Maar, renowned for their cross-disciplinary collaborative projects, in a new summer series that brings four New York based choreographers to the East River waterfront. Called Dance at Socrates, this program is the first residency and performance series in the park dedicated to the creation and presentation of dance.

>>Click here for the complete performance schedule and full company bios<<

Continuing our ongoing series of interviews with the choreographers, this week Norte Maar talked to Brooklyn Ballet founder, Lynn Parkerson. The company has been performing in and out of the creative borough of Brooklyn and this past June was presented by the Southampton Center. Brooklyn Ballet will hit the stage as an invited guest Saturday, August 10, Below, a quick Q&A.

NM: How long have you been dancing, and when did you start choreographing?

Norte Maar, Brooklyn Ballet, Lynn Parkerson, Socrates Sculpture Center, Dance at SocratesLynn Parkerson: I remember some early ballet lessons at age 7 or 8 in NC, playing Peter Rabbit in the recital where I got to do everything wrong. I remember the older girls in long white tutus, gauzy blue, stage-lit, dabbing their pointe shoes in the rosin box. I wanted to be that. At 13 after moving to Boston and as soon as I could take the trolley by myself I was dancing most every day at Boston Ballet and privately with a wonderful, kooky ex-Ziegfield Follies dancer, Harriet Hoctor. In the 6th grade an Early Music ensemble played at our school. I entered a kind of trance where ghost-like shapes seemed to float out of the musical notes and fill the air. This was my first choreographic moment. I didn’t know it just then. I got my start as choreographer in Munich in my twenties, when I was asked to make a dance for a handicapped ramp on a public square. This coincided with a bad break-up. Two dancers stumbled slowly down the ramp, separated, then hauled themselves back up. I remember making the music too- recording sounds at the breakfast table like toast popping up and stirring tea, then a toilet flushing and playing percussion with a teaspoon on a china cup. I never thought about being a choreographer but it was so satisfying. I’ve kept making dances no matter what. Now I need to, but I’m not the tortured-artist type. My work tends not to be self-referential. Well, there was that solo I made for a high-school English assignment to a mix of Chopin and Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” complete with unpinning the ballet bun mid-dance and letting the hair fly. If you’re not a teen-ager I consider this is an art crime.

NM: Can you tell us about founding Brooklyn Ballet?

LP: In 2000 the idea popped up around the dinner table with friends. Brooklyn Ballet – it sounded so right! My friend Immy insisted I register the domain name which I did. Then in January 2001 it looked like Twyla Tharp was going to bring her company to Brooklyn and have it morph into a Brooklyn Ballet. I thought, “Oh well.” Then she was gone again so in 2002 I did the paperwork and got it going; first performing outdoors with the Company, then bringing ballet to public schools, producing an Annual Season and in 2009 we moved to our first permanent space in Downtown Brooklyn. All the while, making new dances, experimenting with the ballet form, collaborating across disciplines, mixing movement genres and decoding cultural stereotypes.

NM: How do you define/describe the movement that interests you?

LP: Lately I’m a collage-ist, interested in how styles intersect, overlap. How two or more seemingly disparate idioms react to each other when they are in close proximity or touch. I like to create space and opportunity for dancers and other artists to be with each other. Determining step material is less interesting to me. Much of the time movement can be created independently by the dancers. Choreography is a state of mind. I just direct traffic. And the community. Hugely inspiring. I love bringing ballet to the streets and the streets to ballet. We have so much to say to each other.

NM: For the project at Socrates, can you describe the work you’ll be presenting?

LP: It’s a “Quilt”! I was in the Borough Hall subway station last month and heard heavenly tones and rhythms coming from a cellist playing on the platform.  I tossed my business card in with my contribution, reverenced, and got on the train. Not soon after the cellist, Malcolm Parson, called me up and I invited him to rehearsal. There was magic. “Quilt” is a dance for 2-6 dancers accompanied by a solo musician, using a vector based improvisational/compositional structure inside of a larger sequence determined by chance operations. Julia Gleich and I collaborated on this for Brooklyn Ballet’s 2013 Season and when it premiered we invited artist Libby Hartle to design projections (See NM’s Transatlantic collaboration with Brooklyn Ballet) For Dance at Socrates “Quilt” will feature dancers James “Floats” Fable, Duane Gosa, Oshi Wanigasekera and cellist Malcolm Parson.

NM: What is up next for you? Any future projects?

LP: The Brooklyn Nutcracker! Picture it – The guests in the first act party scene are the people of Brooklyn, White to West Indian, Arabs to the big furry hats of the Hassidim. The divertissements (diversity) in the 2nd Act are Chinese dancers from Sunset Park, belly dancers from Atlantic Ave and Spanish dancers from everywhere. The Brooklyn Nutcracker is a mixed movement, mixed genre Nutcracker (full of fantastic classical dancers, too!) featuring lots of Brooklyn’s young dance students and Brooklyn’s Big Mike Supreme as Drosselmayer. I start choreographing the Snow Scene this Fall.

There is an incredible theater being renovated, the Loew’s Kings Theatre on Flatbush where I want this Nutcracker to have it’s home. It may take a couple of years but its a dream project!

Brooklyn Ballet, Norte Maar, Lois Greenfield, Socrates Sculpture Park, Dance at Socrates

Lynn Parkerson’s Brooklyn Ballet. Photo: Lois Greenfield

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