The year was 1982. On television, "Fame" was all the rage. In New York, real-life dancers were rehearsing in grim, gritty settings and creating work that showed flashes of brilliance.
Flashes of brilliance like David Parsons' "Caught," a modern-dance masterpiece that his company brings to Charlotte this week.
Parsons is the founder of Parsons Dance, which will perform at the Knight Theater Thursday through Sunday.
In the early 1980s, Parsons was a star in venerated choreographer Paul Taylor's dance company. On the side, Parsons worked as a mechanic, photographer and stuntman.
One day he was rehearsing in a Bronx warehouse for a show that would feature the pioneering break-dancer Mr. Wiggles. Parsons' brother was running tech, and the two started playing around with a strobe light.
They discovered that if Parsons completed a succession of jumps in a circle, and timed each leap so he was suspended in mid-air just as the strobe light flashed, he could create the illusion of flying across the stage, feet never touching the ground.
The performance that resulted, "Caught," still stuns audiences.
"I put 'Caught' together in an afternoon," Parsons said. "I never imagined that it would become what it is today."
At each Knight Theater performance, one of Parsons' dancers will take it on.
"We call them 'the cats,' the people who can do it without even making a noise," Parsons said. "You never hear them hit the stage."
The chief "cat" in the company is Miguel Quinones, an athletic 26-year-old. When he performs "Caught," the light often catches him with his legs in a split, suspended at least three feet off the ground.
Most dancers are with the company for at least a year before they start learning "Caught." Quinones had been there three months. "There was a little bit of pressure," he said.
In his debut, Quinones only messed up once. That was five years ago. "It's all about rhythm," he said. "You have to know when to jump and when the strobe is supposed to go off....Once you get the muscle-memory down, you can focus on breathing and the quality of the movement."
Quinones knew he was in for a lot of jumping around when he auditioned for Parsons. He loved the athleticism: the fast-paced jumps, turns and lifts.
"When they were all up onstage together," Quinones said, "the dancers looked like they were having so much fun."
Parsons is sometimes accused of letting his dancers have too much fun.
When the company premiered a rock opera ballet last month, The New York Times called it vile, a synthetic blend of sex and acrobatics. Parsons was disappointed, but he says he remains committed to creating works that audiences will relate to, even when the critics don't.
The company tours in the U.S. and abroad, and wherever the dancers perform, music often helps draw in crowds. Thursday and Friday in Charlotte, the company will perform works set to music by Mozart and Miles Davis. The lineup for Saturday and Sunday includes a bossa nova suite by Milton Nascimento and a series of songs by the Dave Matthews Band.
The goal is for audiences to leave feeling exhilarated - not confounded, as is too often the case with modern dance.
"As a person, I like to really communicate with people," Parsons said. "I don't like a big question mark in front of your face when you see dance. I want people to be in my world and following along."