Seattle choreographer Donald Byrd as — ahem — a utopian?
Well, not entirely.
“A Meeting Place,” his new work for Spectrum Dance Theater, mixes courtly Renaissance dance steps with militaristic movement, and includes a cheeky design credit for “lights, chairs, and guns.”
Yet the contradictory ingredients of the piece fuse marvelously into something harmonious.
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Byrd takes some of his inspiration from the live music accompanying the piece, performed by August Denhard (lute) and Munir Beken (oud). The two string instruments are closely related, yet have distinct voices as well as different cultural connotations (European for the lute, Turkish for the oud).
Still, as Byrd noted in a post-performance discussion, “Whatever those cultural conflicts are, when the music starts they disappear.”
Denhard and Beken’s elegant musical touch is reason enough to go to “A Meeting Place,” which had its world premiere on Friday. But “Place” is also Byrd at his hyper-inventive, formally rigorous best. (New work by Olivier Wevers and a revived Crispin Spaeth piece are also on the program.)
“Place” convenes nine dancers (and nine chairs) and puts them through varied moods and shifting configurations. While the actions of soloists, couples and trios can be contorted or severe, they can be tender too. Movements straight out of a military drill continually slip into moments of tentative, seductive grace. Legs swathed in combat fatigues lift high and trace smooth arcs in the air.
Jade Solomon Curtis is a knockout in an elastic yet precise solo, filled with fine, improbable balances and turn-on-a-dime shifts in direction. Newcomer Cara-May Marcus, in duets with Vincent Michael Lopez and Donald Jones Jr., is alternately — and impressively — earthy and airy. Derek Crescenti and Shadou Mintrone acrobatically nail it in a fast-paced “saltarello” (from the Italian for “jump”) that finds them soaring and somersaulting in perfect tandem.
Flawless split-second timing in the “chorus,” echoing soloists’ snapshot-long turns, adds to the energy of “Place.” The whole aim of the piece seems to be to take ferocity and grace, and let them bring out the best in each other. The dream seems well within the possible, given the dancers’ capabilities.
Wevers, the director of Whim W’Him, explores darker, more fetishistic territory in “Back, Sack, and Crack” for eight dancers. Lopez, with taffylike articulations of his body, is odd man out here: the only one of four men and four women, as the piece opens, without a pair of stiletto heels to totter around in. A pair at the front of the stage keeps luring him. But the ceaseless circling way his fellow dancers envelop him ensures they stay continually out of reach.
Wevers has played with obsessive material desires before, and here he adds some gender issues to the mix, with pronouncedly feminine shoes becoming the object of male lust. Still, the piece doesn’t have the punch that marks Wevers at his best.
Spaeth’s “Only You” is cheekily titled. “Change Partners and Dance” is actually more like it, given the way Crescenti, Curtis, Jones, Mintrone and Spectrum apprentice Becky Mikos pair up for duets in every possible combination. There’s spectacular partnering here, fickle though all the partners turn out to be. There’s also wit and beauty, building up to an indelible closing image, as Crescenti, with help from Jones, seems to be riding toward the stars.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com