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spectrum: farewell—a review

Spectrum Dance Theater: Farewell—A Review

Ty Alexander Cheng, Joel Myers & Patrick Pulkrabeck (photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)
Spectrum’s “Farewell” Delivers a Truly Fantastical Journey

By Team Diva

It is almost impossible to walk into a performance by Spectrum Dance Theater without being prepared: prepared to be challenged, educated, possibly uncomfortable, and thoroughly entertained.

So it is with Spectrum’s new production “Farewell: A fantastical contemplation on America’s relationship with China,” which opened last night at the Moore Theatre and runs through Saturday, February 20.

“Farewell” is an emotionally intimate dance experience backed by a cacophony of sound and images. Artistic Director and renown choreographer, Donald Byrd, pushes his audience’s boundaries by bringing us into the performance space. We are on stage, some of us sitting in hard metal bleachers, which adds a purposeful level of discomfort. We are there, dancers at eye level before us, live musicians and speakers around us, and life-size images of 9/11 and Tiananmen Square above us. The “music,” composed by Byron Au Young, is a collage of sound, comprised of found recordings of reports from Tiananmen Square and September 11th, live readings of articles on economic relations between America and China, live music performed with drums and bicycle wheels, some Chinese folk music, and Beethoven. This is “Farewell”’s soundtrack.

The performance opens with Spectrum’s principal dancer, Joel Meyer, lying center stage, covered with a white plastic blanket. He is there as the audience enters
the space and situates themselves on the stage. Donald Byrd walks on the scene. He sits above the fray, under an oversized image of Mao, insinuating in his tongue-in-cheek fashion that Byrd, the chorographer, is on the same level as Mao, the dictator. Periodically throughout the performance, Byrd quietly and methodically says “Go” as cue to start a new portion of the piece. One cannot escape the image of both these men striving to influence our perceptions of the world through the movement of the dancers and the words they choose to speak during the performance.

Vincent Lopez and Geneva Jenkins (photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

The evocative choreography of Donald Byrd and the amazing Spectrum dancers speak volumes on translating a very complicated experience between China and America. The sound around you is both invigorating and over-stimulating. And just at the moment the sound becomes almost too overwhelming—and at moments it does—there are the dancers, ready to take you into their world. Whether it’s Joel Meyer’s incredible intensity, Marissa Quimby’s elegant lines, Amber Nicole’s innate grace, or Vincent Lopez’s languid flexibility, all of the dancers offer the viewer an escape from the noise of the world around us. At the same time, one wants to enjoy the beauty of these artists—choreographer and dancers—at the top of their dance careers, but instead one is interrupted by compelling readings of the relationship between China and America.

Joel Myers and Catherine Cabeen (photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

Much needs to be said about Joel Meyer’s acting, in addition to his top-notch dancing in “Farewell.” Meyer is the thread that takes the audience through the streams of information, sounds and images occurring on stage. Throughout the evening, he draws you in by his vulnerability and visual discomfort with moments that are occurring around him. The intimate duets Meyer danced with Catherine Cabeen require the audience to stop for a moment and reflect on their meaning in the context of the overall performance and the bombardment of information coming at the audience. At the beginning of each duet, Meyer uses his body and breathwork to illustrate his intimidation by the structured presence of Cabeen. You breathe with him and feel his discomfort. As they exit the stage, you sit back and reflect on “Who is China?” and “Who is America?” in this intimate and complicated dance.

Spectrum Dance Theater’s “Farewell” is much welcomed piece for those of us who love being challenged by our entertainment. It’s not easy to watch, regardless of its beauty. As Donald Byrd mentioned during the post-performance Q&A, the piece reflects life. Life is not neatly tied up in pretty packages in the end.

Meaghan Sanford (photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

“Farewell” is well worth viewing as much as possible this weekend. Seeing the performance from the various different seats will influence one’s experience and enjoyment. Perhaps try the cushioned chairs from which Mao/Byrd have more dominance in your view. Or, next, sit stage left, where you are face-to-face with the dancers as they recite from the Red Book. Regardless of where you sit, be there to see this inspiring dance company this weekend!

For information on start times and location, and to purchase tickets, please click here.  And more pix, since they’re so gorgeous…

Meaghan Sanford
(photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

Patrick Pulkrabeck
(photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

 Kelly Ann Barton, Ty Alexander Cheng, and Joel Myers
(photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

Tory Peil, Geneva Jenkins, Amber Mayberry, and Joel Myers
(photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

Ty Alexander Cheng
(photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual)

All photos by Gabriel Bienczycki, Zebra Visual