We're all familiar with classic rock, especially the visceral sort that all but forces you to get up and shake it. You know, dance. But what David Parsons heard that night in Manhattan's Town Hall was classical rock.
The first thing he noticed was that the band had a string section. Covering such greatest hits as "The Butterfly Duet" from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" and "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen," they called themselves the East Village Opera Company.
"I knew right then I had to create a dance around this music," says the founder and namesake of Parsons Dance, the New York-based contemporary company of international renown.
He met with the company's co-founder Peter Kiesewalter, who describes his brand as "the pomposity of opera meets the majesty of rock -- and vice versa." The result of their collaboration -- a long-form work of 90 minutes that tells a tragic love story -- made its world premiere two years ago at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, followed by a PBS telecast.
Saturday night, Staller Center presents the first Long Island performance of "Remember Me," set to assorted arias, sacred music and folk antiquities -- all played on modern instruments and featuring rock-style vocalists delivering mostly Italian lyrics.
STRETCHING IT OUT In all the 70 works choreographed by Parsons for his company, this is the first he calls full-length. "It's the collaboration that really makes it work," he says. "The choreography is quite physical and contemporary, like the instrumentation. We need that to bring the story up to today.
"We took pains to advance the story though movement," he says, "so language doesn't matter" -- although there is some English in the assembled libretto. "We just got back from a tour of Chile and Brazil. It seems 'Remember Me' has a universal appeal."
THREE'S A CROWD "It's the story of a love triangle that doesn't end happily," says Parsons. That sounds apt, considering the operatic sources. Puccini's "Turandot" is no laugh riot, nor his "La Bohème" or Verdi's "Rigoletto." Arias from each are sung by Tyley Ross, who started out as an Ottawa street busker, and Ma-Anne Dionisio, who appeared on Broadway in the revival of "The Flower Drum Song." The troupe of nine dancers includes Parsons principles Eric Bourne, Steven Vaughn, Sarah Braverman and Elena D'Amario, all dancing to a recording visually amplified by projections that Parsons describes as "almost 3-D."
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"Remember Me" is preceded by an early piece from Parsons' repertoire, "Caught," choreographed in 1982, three years before he founded his company.
WHAT "Remember Me" by Parsons Dance and East Village Opera Company
WHEN | WHERE Saturday night at 8, Staller Center, Stony Brook University
INFO $38; stallercenter.com, 631-632-2787