To Annie-B Parson, choreography isn’t confined to the studio and the stage; rather, practically everything around us abounds with movement that’s worth paying attention to. In her new, aptly titled book, The Choreography of Everyday Life, an inventive, observant, and witty ode to her relationship with dance and movement over the course of her lifetime, she delves into exactly that belief.
Dance has long, or perhaps always, been a part of Parson’s sensibility. From a young age, she began exploring the art form, taking choreography classes in high school and at age 16 starting her 20-year-long ballet training. Initially focused on the visual arts and set on a career in painting, Parson eventually shifted to the world of performance in college, and went on to earn her master’s in dance at Columbia University. Soon after graduating, at the age of 25, she choreographed her first major theater production, Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan, through which she met the actor and director Paul Lazar, whom she later married. In 1991, together with Lazar and their collaborator Molly Hickok, Parson co-founded Big Dance Theater.
From that point forward, Parson threw herself into the world of dance. Over the past 30-plus years with Big Dance Theater, her work has amounted to more than 20 choreographed and co-created works—ranging from pure dance pieces, to adaptations of literature and plays, to original works. She has been commissioned by theaters including the Old Vic Theatre in London, the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris, and Les Subsistances in Lyon, and back in New York, institutions such as The Japan Society, The Kitchen, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Beyond Big Dance, Parson’s inventive oeuvre extends in seemingly infinite directions: opera, pop music, television, movies, ballet, marching bands, symphonies. A frequent and close collaborator with the legendary David Byrne, Parson has choreographed two of his world tours; his musical with Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love; and most recently, his highly acclaimed Broadway hit American Utopia. Other collaborations include two large-scale works in repertory with the Martha Graham Dance Company; a solo for Wendy Whelan, commissioned by the Royal Ballet; and choreography for Ivo Van Hove’s rendition of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus. The eclecticness of Parson’s body of work is rivaled only by that of her choreographic style, which finds inspiration in everything from traditional ballet, to Russian folk dances, to pedestrians on the sidewalk. A meticulous attentiveness and a whimsical ingenuity are the hallmarks of everything she does.
On this episode, Parson speaks with Andrew about how the pandemic has altered our understanding of the ways our bodies relate to one another, why she considers TikTok a new kind of folk dance, and choreography as a means of controlling and testing time.