The white-clad dancers of Spectrum Dance Theater moved between rigid poses with incredible speed in the challenging and rhythmic choreography of Donald Byrd’s LOVE (September 19-20, 2014). The precision, flexibility, strength, and energy required of Spectrum’s dancers made for an athletically riveting performance. Wendy Sutter’s live rendition of Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suites filled the air with emotion. The two stages set up in a converted airplane hanger—Magnuson Park’s Hangar 30—proved an intriguing use of space. For everything Spectrum delivered on, there was one notable thing missing: love.
Of the many couples presented throughout the work, only a few were even remotely believable. Kate Monthy and Andrew Pontius had choreography with enough play in it to feel like a conversation, and the brief pairing between Vincent Michael Lopez and Alex Crozier led to the evening’s only moment of convincing intimacy. Shadou Mintrone nailed the choreography and delivered one of the few mature presences of the night, but there was always distance between her and her partner. At one point she directed a plaintive solo toward him across the stage. She demanded recognition, but he was unaware, continuing to wallow in his own melodramatic agony.
Byrd’s choreography played with the dynamics of the music in interesting ways, adding a counterpoint of rigid, linear shapes to the melodic quality of the cello. There was an element of spatial counterpoint, too: Byrd used stationary bodies to contain the space, creating a living architecture for the dance to interact with. The dynamic movement made complete use of the dancers’ facilities with technically arduous jumps and extremely high legs. While thrilling to see the range of these dancers’ bodies, the frequent use of splits in the choreography felt unnecessary and distracted from its narrative force, tipping the performance momentarily into circus-trick-land. The piece was not intimate, so what was the story behind this choreography? Mood-wise it oscillated between over-the-top angst and coolly detached technique. Whatever love was here was unrelatable—an operatic indication of love without vulnerability or authenticity.
LOVE was not only missing love, but seemed to actively vie against it. The tension was especially evident in the third act, where the work strayed from duet form. A circle of women in white tulle lay still on the stage, only mobilized as each man in the company made the rounds—kissing each woman. The make-out sessions caused the women to squirm and writhe, returning to stillness as each man moved on. It was an uneasy scene. Later, one woman removed her tutu skirt nervously and then was passed around between four men as they directed her graceful movements. She was not pleased. She was not floating on the highs of love. Her body was being controlled and she had no resistance. Throughout LOVE, the men were the clear agents of action, which may explain why none of the heteronormative relationships were successful or compelling.
Spectrum, as a company, is very clear about their strong tendencies toward a classical ballet aesthetic, which includes specific gender roles. However, the presented passivity of the women dancers in LOVE combined with some of the more modern elements at play make for some disturbing implications. If this was a comment on the status quo it wasn’t clear. It certainly doesn’t belong under the title of “LOVE.” In light of the the growing awareness of rape culture and the President’s recent call to arms to reduce sexual assault, it raises the question: Does art have a duty to present socially responsible content? The choreography neither celebrated nor denounced these disturbing scenes, but one would presume that the company that navigated racial waters with The Minstrel Show has the capacity to be more than passive.
For more information on Spectrum Dance Theater, visit their website.