Spectrum Dance Theater’s season opener, The Beast, teems with charged choreography depicting the unflinching details of a violently tainted love story. Originally created in 1996 for UW’s World Series, Artistic Director Donald Byrd’s reworking of his own choreography paints an uncompromising picture of domestic abuse. With moments sure to alarm some, it nevertheless makes a compelling statement intended to spur discussion about domestic violence, its causes, consequences, and the horrors in between. At once brutal and captivating, The Beast is stunning in its viciousness.
|Spectrum Dance Theater’s Kate Monthy and Donald Jones Jr.
Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki
The narrative begins with the marriage of “the beast”(Donald Jones Jr.) to an innocent bride, danced by Kate Monthy. Inspired by the theater practices of Bertolt Brecht, Byrd uses terse megaphone announcements, shrill whistles, and smacking claps to divide the work into chapters like “The Beast Learns to Tango,” “The Beast is Sorry,” and the murderous, “She Takes Revenge.” The wedding, accompanied by bright camera flashes, plastered-on smiles and incessant clapping for the “happy” couple, quickly erodes as Jones’ gentle handholding becomes a vice grip. The savagery that colors their relationship is masterfully choreographed, each movement instilled with intention and narrative purpose. The dancers (five of who are new to Spectrum this season) seem to tense every muscle in order to navigate the abrupt direction changes, slicing battements, and visceral partnering with such meticulous precision.
|Spectrum Dance Theater’s Kate Monthy, Donald Jones Jr.,
and Amber Mayberry. Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki
Equally as stunning as the dancing are the dramatic portrayals of the characters. In a piece requiring significant emotional investment, all of the dancers, but most notably Cheng, Jones, and Monthy, give committed performances. Conveying the gamut of subtly shifting emotions, their honest, not over-done facial expressions, never flinch at the depiction of the grimmest realities. This is where the subject matter becomes most affecting; in Spectrum’s intimate studio theater, every maniacally glinting eye and sorrow-filled countenance is plainly visible, lending added depth to this already multi-faceted work. The proximity also forces the audience to confront the unsettling subject matter head-on, with few moments for escape or relief from its sometimes hardly palatable scenes.