Opening Nights: Spectrum Dance Theater

Encounters fraught with drama on a ballroom floor.

Even when the subject is romance, Donald Byrd's dances are high-tension events. Peering Into the Ballroom, a trio of works previously created for other companies, opens on a scene fraught with drama. Kylie Lewallen shrugs off Joel Meyers' hand in the opening moment of Le Bal Noir, then stalks across the stage, alone. The intensity builds from there, as her gesture sets in motion a long series of encounters, couples meeting and parting at breakneck speed. The evening is full of big, passionate gestures—rushing and leaping, jumping into one set of arms after rejecting another—but there's very little tenderness involved. This roiling energy contrasts with the formal setting of gilt-framed mirrors and elaborate chandeliers, yet everyone keeps their manners intact. Characters come close to the edge of violence, but never cross that line. Byrd saves that transition for La Valse, where men and women face off in a kind of endurance test. When they aren't inspecting one another like cattle, their ballroom manners are reduced to a kind of zombie waltz. Arms remain locked in the traditional partner-dance position even as they stumble around alone. Mio Morales' score lets Ravel's music fade in and out—it reaches full volume the performers are at their nastiest, slamming around like exhausted gladiators. When the music cuts out, all we can hear is their wheezing to catch their breath. The evening closes with Longing, a (slightly) more lyrical set of dances. Yet even here, the drama is almost cruel, with a gradual winnowing of the cast as they leave the space one by one, until a single dancer remains. After the tempestuous and almost violent codes of ballroom courtship, there's still no happy ending. If you're a fan of Byrd's trademark intensity, Peering Into the Ballroom will sweep you along with its take-no-prisoners momentum. Otherwise you might feel as if you've been alone in a windstorm, shaken and trembling.

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