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Evolutionary art takes stage

When the Parsons Dance Company and the Billy Taylor Trio bring Step Into My Dream to bay area halls, they hope to make joyous abandon together.

Each time the work is performed, shadings change and emphasis shifts, pianist Taylor said, depending on who dances with whom and what evolves as the work takes shape.

"We hope to keep it almost like a work-in-progress," Taylor said. "The piece changes every night. Even within the structured section, I am always improvising within the melody."

For choreographer David Parsons, the collaboration with Taylor is a reminder of the beauty of working with live music. When dancers perform to taped music, as most touring companies do today because of cost, there is no room for an evolution of expression to take place, he said.

The dance company will also perform Nascimento and Caught. Taylor's combo will perform several pieces on its own.

Step Into My Dream was commissioned from Taylor and Parsons by seven performing arts institutions, including the Kennedy Center in Washington. It was premiered last spring at the Krannert Center of the University of Illinois.

For Taylor, who wrote the music before Parsons did the choreography, Step Into My Dream is a personal journey down 125th Street in Harlem. Taylor, jazz expert on CBS Sunday Morning, moved to New York as a young musician. The piece uses Harlem's main street as a way to talk about his memories of the community there and the changes that have taken place over the years.

Uncle Bob celebrates a ragtime piano player whom Taylor remembers playing at a corner bar. Kim's Song was written for Taylor's daughter and recalls her promenading down 125th Street in her Sunday best as a young girl. On This Lean Mean Street is a rap song about the history of the street and reflects on life there today.

Though the music is heartfelt for Taylor, he didn't try to dictate to Parsons how it should be expressed in dance. He said he is used to people taking his ideas and making them their own.

"As a jazz musician, people are doing things with your music all the time," he said. "I have had people play my music and it didn't sound anything like the way I played it. Sometimes I liked it better."

When Parsons heard the ragtime section, he thought of making the dancers become like piano keys. They move their arms but not their bodies.


Step Into My Dream

The Parsons Dance Company and the Billy Taylor Trio perform Step Into My Dream and other works at Van Wezel Hall on Tuesday and Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday, both at 8 p.m. Van Wezel tickets are $24-$28; Ruth Eckerd tickets are $19.50-$27.50. There is a free lecture/demonstration at Van Wezel at 4 p.m. Tuesday.