Opening Nights: Byrd Retrospective Festival

Spectrum Dance Theater artistic director Donald Byrd celebrated his 60th birthday last summer, and the company is extending the party with a series of retrospective concerts, looking back over his tenure here as well as dipping into his career before he took over stewardship in 2002. Opening night roared—and there are two separate programs of his high-intensity work over the next two weekends. Byrd is a postmodernist of the "harder, faster, farther" school, taking movement from a wide variety of sources and running it through a complex structuring process. The results are dances that can knock you flat with their raw energy, keep your eyes glued to the stage watching for shifting patterns, and tease you with references to dance history, pop culture, and current events.Six pieces were performed on Friday night. ...and their souls will understand (2004) is set to contemporary fado music, and the movement has the look of a community ritual, a hard-edged version of a folk dance. Feet pound on the floor, arms are flung wide, and simple actions are repeated with a harsh energy. The intensity is matched in M.I.A. (2007), but the intent is radically different. In traditional tutus and stocking feet, a small ensemble works its way through some serious variations on neoclassical choreography, but the soloist downstage center would fit right in with Les Ballets Trockadero. In a raffia skirt, with a Pebbles Flintstone bone in his wig, Vincent Lopez embodies the kitschy convention of the bitchy ballerina. The stereotypes become even more exaggerated when a "real" ballerina arrives, in pointe shoes and tiara. At the end, they milk the applause.Each Friday of the festival includes an unannounced piece. This past Friday, it was a new take on an old dance. Byrd has often reworked classic ballets, shifting their stories, settings, or points of view. He continues that with Le Sacre, pt. 1— a pocket version of the work, with only six dancers, set to a piano and percussion arrangement of the controversial Stravinsky score. In Byrd's revisioning, the selection has already taken place—the "Chosen One," dressed in white, is an obvious sacrifice. She is counseled by a matriarch figure, her trials witnessed by a small group, and mated to a young man who subdues, or possibly rapes, her at the end. Byrd hits a couple of off moments here—the movement is not as rhythmically complex as the score, but this is a fascinating glimpse of what he could make of it with more time to explore.Despite the title's double message, there is no tenderness in Sentimental Cannibalism (1993). Eight men and women face off in a series of grueling encounters in which technical skill is a weapon: the more precise the movement, the more powerful and detailed the dancing, the more successful the dancer. There is very little difference between "male" and "female" here, or between performer and audience, for that matter—at the end, we are all exhausted.

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