Spectrum Dance Theater
800 Lake Washington Blvd., 325-4161, spectrumdance.org. $20–$25. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 20.
Donald Byrd glories in pushing our buttons. In branding Spectrum’s new season “America: Sex, Race & Religion,” he almost twinkled while calling it a conversation about “three of the quintessential American preoccupations.” But despite his zest for controversy, the first program in the series is more thoughtful than inflammatory.
Byrd makes the most of Spectrum’s repertory, but he does open the door to outside choreographers. Cyrus Khambatta, who runs the Seattle International Dance Festival as well as his own company, has worked with Spectrum before. His Truth and Betrayal is laced with moments of trust broken and relationships gone awry; throughout the dance for five, partnerships fail and attention wanders. Khambatta brings his experience with the weighted fluidity of contact improvisation to his work. This sinuous, grounded quality is a good addition to Spectrum’s high-tension virtuosity, and its dancers bring an intense focus on details. Early in the work, Jade Solomon Curtis and Alex Crozier approach and pull away from each other over and over again. The clarity of gesture—hands are repeatedly offered and rejected—makes the image as vivid as it is painful.
In restaging his 1990 Prodigal, Byrd hits the religion and sex buttons. The dance is a grand mixture of multiple images: a revival meeting, a trial, a commentary on 20th-century dance styles, and an exploration of sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion. Byrd himself plays the father, carrying a Bible and a handkerchief as he opens the work with a passage from Luke. His congregation, crisp in three-piece suits, waves handkerchiefs as Byrd exhorts them to “be merry.” They resemble the gospel chorus in the finale of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, but the son, crawling across the stage to his father, mirrors George Balanchine’s choreography for The Prodigal Son. Byrd has salted references to Balanchine’s version of the story throughout his own, especially in a deadpan recapitulation of the Siren seducing the Prodigal. Curtis recites the alphabet as she moves from image to image, echoing the Balanchine, until she arrives at Z—a slow-motion split suspended between a chair and a wheelchair.
Jacob Jonas is both sullen and repentant as the Prodigal, while Daniel Wilkins, as both the older brother and an attorney defending the Siren, incorporates martial arts with contemporary dance to powerful affect. His solo, in which he admits resenting his younger brother, is a study in barely controlled violence. Despite these frustrations, Byrd repeats the main theme of love and redemption throughout the work: “My son was dead and is alive again. He was lost, and now he is found.”