Opening Nights: LOVE

Dance on the dark side of the emotion, set to some great Britten.

Donald Byrd has been thinking about love. But since this choreographer generally shies away from the romantic or the lighthearted, it makes sense that when he turns to love, he explores the emotion's more intense aspects. After recently reviving his Petrushka, where love verges on obsession, and Miraculous Mandarin, which links salvation with lust, Byrd's new LOVE is an essay about passion.

Byrd's signature movement style is a kind of high-tension virtuosity. This becomes a metaphor for emotional commitment through a series of solos and ensemble dances that employ almost every kind of partnership for the large cast. Some of the movement resembles Merce Cunningham's complicated multitasking physical patterns, yet without the dry lightness. As ever, Byrd's default setting is ultra-intense.

There are many exceptionally beautiful moments in LOVE: a sculptural duet for Jeroboam Bozeman and Vincent Michael Lopez; another almost playful duet for Donald Jones Jr. and Kate Monthy; and an amazing group dance for Jade Solomon Curtis and the men in the cast—who toss her around before finally raising her like a glorious bowsprit. Relationships repeatedly form, but none remain intact. It's a telling tableau when Amber Nicole Mayberry stands as still as an Egyptian bas-relief in the midst of great agitation—unwilling or unable to join the other dancers. She is profoundly alone.

Byrd uses this unconventional space, a former church, to his advantage, staging the dance on two adjacent platforms in the middle of the sanctuary. The dual stages further emphasize the distance and estrangement among dancers; this gives the actual moments of contact additional resonance.

The score, performed live and near- continuously through the 72-minute LOVE, is Benjamin Britten's Suites for solo cello (Denise Djokic played the first weekend; Wendy Sutter performs the second). The cellist sits where the pulpit would be, and the church acoustics are ideal—almost like a recital.

LOVE opens and closes with Lopez alone on stage. At the beginning, after a yearning, self-reflective solo full of elegant writhing, he finishes by embracing himself. At evening's end, he turns away from the others, refusing their offers of connection. In Byrd's world, love is not always requited.

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