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Fall Studio Series at Spectrum

Written by Christin Call
Donald Jones Jr. and Jade Solomon Curtis in
Donald Byrds’ A Meeting PlacePhote by Nate Watters
The Spectrum Fall Studio Series tends to highlight such fast and furious Seattle-based choreographers as Zoe Scofield, Amy O’Neal, and Kiyon Gaines. As a sampler of current, local dancemaking fit for a company based on technical precision and dramatic prowess, Spectrum has an opportunity in its programming to curate and contextualize the inclusion of particular artists—set viewers up to draw comparisons and contrasts, ask questions about what makes each of these artists relevant in his or her own right. This year’s line-up of Crispin Spaeth, Olivier Wevers, and Donald Byrd offered a range from the dramatic to technical, interpersonal to political, and curved arcs to rectilinear lines. To say more, however, would be fanwanking. Byrd simply “liked” Spaeth’s work and thought Wevers to be “reliable” and “productive,” all of which are great reasons to employ people but don’t particularly add to artistic dialogue. Despite this oversight, Spectrum dancers dazzled and amazed, especially in their most intricate and technically volatile moments.   

Donald Byrd’s work

A Meeting Place

continued his use of war themes by looking at U.S.relations with Afghanistan. It’s pleasing to see how certain modes of his process intuitively lend themselves to contextual meaning—the characteristic use of chairs to keep those who aren’t dancers still involved in the action, like a mini-audience reflecting back reactions of world affairs, or the straightforward entrances and exits between works like a soldier’s stoic preparation in face of battle. And stylistically, Spectrum dancers are in a battle with their own physicality and the extraordinary demands placed on them choreographically. Vincent Lopez, with hands behind his back and wrapped around one leg, extends to an excruciating 180 degree à la seconde. Cara-May Marcus, in a duet with Donald Jones, Jr., penchéespast 180 degrees with her back to Jones and leg up on his shoulder. In some ways Meeting recalls a simpler version of Interrupted Narratives/WARwith its massive chair section for the entire company and florescent lighting from the back of the stage but without the specific focus on the magnitude of death and sacrifice. The focus of this new work is unclear as yet, but these soldiers are less tragic than the former. With both Afghani and U.S. soldiers represented, they are very much active in debate, constantly negotiating and almost spryly engaging each other. In an exciting mock boxing match between Dereck Crescenti and the acrobatic Shadou Mintrone, they tumble and fight, but with the other dancers cheering them on almost playfully. Traditional live music by August Denhard on the lute and Munir Beken on the ud, two instruments that have a shared history but diverged in form during the Medieval Period, created a thread of commonality between the two warring sides.

Vincent Michael Lopez in Olivier Wevers’ Back, Sack, and CrackPhoto by Nate Watters
Wevers, choreographing new work on Spectrum now for the third time, presented Back, Sack, and Crack. It showcased the best aspects of Wevers’ sweeping, rotating, and interweaving dynamic and Spectrum’s physical and emotional dimensionality. It was great to watch the dancers using gravity and weight to fulfill the huge arcs and generous shapes given them and allowing that open weightedness to be an expressive realization of individuality and nuance. Wevers is an artist working inside a filter of Aristotlean ideals and mid-century Modernism, where capital “T” Truth exists in  ultimate form along with the capital “F” Feminine ideal. Coming from an under-represented gay male perspective, Wevers’ protagonist, enacted by the majestic Lopez, searches through his desire to be Feminine, not be with the Feminine.  This ideal is represented in object form by a pair of high heels and personified in the perfect, strutting legs of Jade Solomon Curtis. Lopez is an abject worshiper and a kind of ugly duckling amongst a group of men and women who, lit mostly from knee down, have already attained a greater “high heel” social status. With constantly rotating pairings and grouping that build up and fall away interloped with cabaret-style hip drops, struts, and posing, there is a real urgency in the search for a kind of sexuality that will include him. Every inch of Lopez’ body teems toward the heels, from his overstimulated wrists to his numbed ankles, but he is pulled away from the object of his desire over and over, sometimes cruelly with a stiletto squishing his head down on the floor. The turning point in the work came musically with a shift from the soundscore by Michael Gordon to the famous “Nocturne in E flat” by Frederic Chopin. In its context becoming almost lounge-y, Lopez was held aloft by some of those that had formerly kept him down so he could literally walk all over those left floundering on the ground. And as the sidelights were tipped up to imbue Lopez with angelic lights, we saw him as if ascending higher than ever before.

Spectrum dancers in Crispin Spaeth’s Only You
Photo by Nate Watters
The pairing of Spectrum dancers with the work of Crispin Spaeth seemed to be an uncomfortable fit in the piece Only You. The comparatively pedestrian style of movement appeared too simple on the Spectrum dancers, who then compensated by overindulging in the dramatic components of the work. This happens on occasion for Spectrum, who in Byrd’s own work are asked to move as if their lives and the lives of their mother, father, siblings, cousins, and cousin’s cousins depended on it. When called on to scale back physically, the group has a difficult time finding the balance between histrionics and emotional depth. There was also a strong clash between the piece’s conventional content—ever-changing hook-ups—and music by Dale Sather that resembled the humming of a wind turbine or music from a boombox as heard through the propellers of a jet engine. Though left wondering how interpretation had altered this work from previous casts, the piece closed with a stunning image of Crescenti rolling his ribcage atop the shoulders of Jones, propelling them in pinwheels reinvigorated with each body roll and Jones reaching one hand up then the other, in a gentle cycle of almost-touching that spoke volumes of tenderness.

The Fall Studio Series continues this weekend Dec. 7thand 8th at 8pm and the 9th at 6pm.  For tickets and more information go to