[This article was originally published October 4, 2019, for the show's initial run at the Hudson Theatre]
In David Byrne’s American Utopia, choreographer Annie-B Parson makes sure that even the band members dance.
That’s accomplished by some special harnesses that make movement possible for even those toting heavy instruments, but Parson’s work isn’t typical of what you might immediately associate with a choreographer working on Broadway.
After working with Byrne on Off-Broadway’s Here Lies Love and the tour of his album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Parson makes her Broadway debut choreographing and staging American Utopia (now in previews at the St. James Theatre, with an opening set for October 17) in a singularly uncluttered way. In fact, she wonders if the staging for the uncategorizable concert evening may be unlike anything attempted before on the Great White Way.
“The movement, the vocabulary is not derived from musical theatre,” she says. “The dance material has a pedestrian quality, but it also comes from the absurd, of abstraction, of disassociation.”
But don’t mistake pedestrian for average. “Pedestrian” is a technical term in dance that means everyday movement. So rather than jumps and twirls, the 11 performers walk across the stage without any characterization.
“I hope that the show can influence the way people can look at theatre and movement in theatre as larger than the way we typically think of choreography,” Parson says. “Normally we think of choreography as steps, but it really is an organization of bodies in space.”
It’s a beautiful problem that David Byrne charged her with—incorporating every person on stage into the choreography—she says, adding that she prefers limitations, rather than starting with a blank canvas.
She calls David Byrne’s American Utopia a feel-awake experience, not just a feel-good one. “Through that statement of people singing and dancing together and David speaking a little bit about where he lives as an artist and how he views what’s going on, you get this larger statement of where we are as a community and where we need to go,” Parson explains. And Parson’s path is one that continues to push the boundaries of dance on Broadway.