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5th avenue theatre: on the town features spectrum dancers


Through May 2
5th Avenue Theatre’s On the Town…with Spectrum dancers (Chris Bennion photo)
interview by rosemary jones

INTERVIEW: Spectrum Dancers Showcased in On The Town
by Rosemary Jones

As the 5th Avenue Theatre winds up its recent production of On the Town, the organization also finishes its second successful collaboration with Spectrum Dance Theater. The two had previously worked together on West Side Story last season.

“It would have been challenging to cast all the dancers here in Seattle,” said 5th Avenue artistic director David Armstrong. “Without Spectrum, I think we would have had to go to New York and Los Angeles.”

While On the Town appears to be a fluffy love story about three lonely sailors looking for a date in the Big Apple, Armstrong pointed out that the Leonard Bernstein musical was inspired by a Jerome Robbins’ ballet and that the choreographer had a thing or two that he wanted to show his Broadway audiences.

“On The Town came out shortly after Oklahoma, and I believe that much of the dancing was Jerome Robbins’ reaction to what Agnes de Mille had done. In many ways, I think he was trying to outdo her,” said Armstrong.

With Spectrum’s help, Armstrong was able to create a musical New York where the Bronx was up, the Battery was down, and the dancers could leap with balletic grace and sing as well.

“I always take the ‘theater’ in our name very seriously,” said Donald Byrd, Spectrum’s artistic director. “What we do at Spectrum in our own shows is a complete engagement of the dancer as a theatrical persona.” Byrd often works short bits of dialogue or other spoken material into the pieces that he choreographs at Spectrum. Because of his expectations, his dancers tend to be comfortable speaking or singing during a performance.

Sailor Gabey (Joe Aaron Reid, far right) finds New York can be a
“Lonely Town” when you’re the only boy who doesn’t have a girl in
On The Town, the classic Leonard Bernstein musical playing at
Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre now till May 2 (Chris Bennion photo) 

So he’s not surprised that his company can make an easy transition from performances at Spectrum to hoofing it up at the 5th. Nor that the 5th keeps asking them back.

“Spectrum dancers are a pleasure for other people to work with,” he said. “They are fully engaged by what they do and they have an intensity–they are driven–to succeed at whatever they do.”
When Byrd is looking for new members of the company, he seeks dancers “who trust their instincts. After all, my dancers are my primary collaborators, really intelligent people who I can create a dialogue with.”

This season, in particular, he says that he has been blessed with “dancers who are also fun. They are adventurous and fearless. Not that they have no fear; like all dancers, they worry about how something will look, but they know how to act despite their fears. I think they are just a great addition to this classic Broadway musical, that itself is full of a wonderful sense of old-fashioned optimism.”

Collaborations with a larger organization like the 5th are also a great way to grow Spectrum’s audience as well as keep their dancers working throughout the season, said executive director Anne Derieux.
“Collaborations have a huge impact,” she said. “They are a way to expand our season. And, of course, we hope it will encourage new people to come and check out what Spectrum does.” But the benefits don’t have to run all one way, she added with a smile. “Maybe our involvement with the 5th encouraged some dance people to see a musical and expand their horizons too!”

As for Armstrong, he’s more than willing to have the Spectrum dancers back in the house when the right project comes along. “A huge part of our mission is to showcase the amazing talent to be found in Seattle,” he said.

You can find more of Rosemary Jone’s writing on her website, on her site—and in the bookstore! She just had yet another book recently published, City of the Dead…of the Waterdeep series. If you’re a fantasy fan, check it out. I really enjoyed it. —Rosie