Love Reveals Softer Side of Byrd

Written by Gabrielle Nomura

Spectrum dancers in Donald Byrd’s Love.
Photo by Nate Watters


Spectrum Dance Theater’s Love, which premiered June 21st at Daniels Recital Hall, may change the way audiences think about Artistic Director Donald Byrd. Does Byrd believe in happily-ever-afters? His signature gritty work usually begs this question. Often creating dances with violence or sexuality not suitable for children, (this year’s Beast,Petrushka, and Miraculous Mandarin, for example), it would be easy to assume he’s not an overly optimistic guy. In fact, this year, he titled his season love: subject/object, exploring the emotion as a “tortuous, obsessive exercise in despair, frailty, and annihilation.”

But when audiences see the evening-length Love, Byrd’s newest work, they’ll see another side of Byrd, inspired by a transformation of his thoughts on love, from darkness to joy. While Byrd’s personal journey informed his creative process, Love took viewers on a long, but not always comprehensible ride, even by modern dance standards. While the work had a clear conclusion, the dynamic arc and structure were at times murky and long-winded.    

In an odd way, however, these qualities also contributed to the dance. It was almost like experiencing the same emotional guesswork of being in a relationship–– “Where is this going?” Byrd ditched cliché narrative approaches and, instead, made a dance of suggestions, gestures, and subtle hints. Instead of being told to be heartbroken or elated, audiences had the freedom to explore their own feelings as they saw little pieces of yearning, conflict, resolution, and submission flash by. 

Inside the stripped recital hall, which is also a historic Methodist church, two large island platforms, one smaller than the other, provided the stage. Spectators could watch from the balcony pews above, or with surgical closeness at ground-level; they could also choose to move around and between the islands to see Love from numerous angles. At the front of the church, cellist Denise Djokic brought the evening to another level with her rendition of Benjamin Britten’s “Cello Suites” (Wendy Sutter is scheduled to accompany the show June 2830). The dancers smoldered across the two platforms, their long legs and muscles exposed in white shorts or leotards, as they executed leaps, lifts, and unfolding motions with balletic precision.

Spectrum dancers in Donald Byrd’s Love.
Photo by Nate Watters

Though Byrd has previously stated it’s not the movement vocabulary, but the idea or structure that matters most, the vocabulary in Love cannot be ignored. In an exploration of limbs, the dancers almost never stopped moving, pushing the limit of their own human shapes, and often defying those limitations. Jade Solomon Curtis seemed to dance in the air as a team of men lifted, cradled, and catapulted her through spectacular acrobatics. It was hard to take one’s eyes off Curtis, who fearlessly tackled the airborne movement as her partners’ ready hands created an ever-shifting staircase.

While each dancer had a chance to shine, standouts included the sinewy Jeroboam Bozeman and the fierce Amber Nicole Mayberry. Because the art of performing isn’t purely physical, many experienced dancers tap into a story or feeling to make each step purposeful. These two were masters of this skill, their emotions, and their limbs, all of which impacted their rendition of the complex nuances of Byrd’s subject matter.

As many people know, Byrd never skirts away from dark material or inconvenient and painful subjects. In his final work of the 20112012 season, audiences see that love is all the dark things Byrd claims. But, isn’t love also worth it? See the performance and the answer may become clear.

Love can be seen at 8 p. June 2123 and June 2830 at Daniels Recital Hall in Downtown Seattle at 811 5th Avenue. Tickets are $25 general, $20 students, and are on sale now at http://spectrumdance.org/company/love.