Spectrum Dance’s “Love” Introduces 50 New Shades of Grey

Donald Byrd and his company Spectrum Dance Theater have gone to great lengths for love this season.

In the  fall, the reprisal of Byrd’s earlier work The Beast terrified with too-real visions of domestic violence. In spring, Petruchska admonished against futile obsessions; and in Miraculous Mandarin…whoops! Didn’t see that one.

Apparently the content was so shocking that after the opening night performance, Storefronts Seattle curator Matthew Richter deemed the program was inappropriate for the space Spectrum had been granted (windows facing the public Hing Hay park in the International District); so all subsequent performances were cancelled. Storefronts and Spectrum are supposedly working together to re-stage the show in a new location.

Nobody said love was easy.

The final installment of Spectrum’s season opened last weekend. Love, a brand new work by Byrd, is staged on a stark white stage inside Daniels Recital Hall downtown (formerly First United Methodist Church).

Compared to Spectrum’s other shows this season, Love is stripped naked: no props, no dialogue, no noticeable light changes. On opening night, summer evening sunlight set the stained glass windows aglow; and the hall’s  giant organ serves as a triumphant backdrop. Otherwise, there are no special effects. There are only the dancers, looking vulnerable in skimpy white leotards and shorts—and a single cellist (Denis Djokic and Wendy Sutter alternated weekends) playing Bejamin Britten, and taking full advantage of the hall’s wonderful acoustics.

The choreography updates a familiar tale: boy meets girl. In this version, boy also meets boy, who he seems to get along with even better. Until another girl and even more boys and girls come along. Moving between duets and group dances, the dancers writhe between different stages of relationships: some smitten in love; others predatory in lust; the rest, lost.

Despite the highs and lows in the story, all of the movements feel tender and careful, as when dancer Jade Solomon Williams is hoisted into the air by six of her male cast members—and held there for what felt like 30 minutes (it was probably closer to 5), while performing a sort of marionette-meets-figure-skating number. Her feet never touch the ground as the men manipulate her limbs for her—yet there is not the feeling of danger as was present in Beast and Petruchska. She, as we all have been, is simply “caught up in it”:  bobbing and contorting over the tops of the men like a leaf helpless to steer itself across the surface of a river.

Though Love is the most “simply dressed” of Spectrum’s current season, this production isn’t simple. It’s long (over two hours). It is slow-moving and meditative. But because of the multidimensional talent performers like Donald Jones Jr. and Shadou Mintrone bring to the piece, there is genuine tension and emotional connection in almost every gesture we see: even in something so simple as the dancers pressing their foreheads together.

When Byrd described the concept for this season early on, he suggested that this final piece would give audiences an “answer” to what his take on love is now, compared to what it was when he was younger. I’m not sure that answer has arrived; and I’m not sure it’s actually supposed to.

Love is an ongoing competition between pain and pleasure; between reason and impulse. It's a tangled, confusing, sexy mess - right up until the final heartbreaking image, where all of the love our “hero” (Vincent Michael Lopez) has accumulated is suddenly behind him. Perhaps in a dream? Or his past? We are talking about contemporary dance here, so the story isn't exactly clear. But Lopez's painful duel with so many confused emotions is so beautifully (and brutally) painted in this piece, you’d have to be a Cylon not to see a little piece of yourself on stage with him or not to feel a little bit of that pain.

Whether you "get" the choreography or not, it's hugely worth it to see this show and witness the uncanny way in which Donald Byrd "gets" people, and how he quietly sympathizes with all the strange things they put themselves through.

See Love
6/28-6/30. 8 p.m. Prices vary. Daniels Recital Hall, 811 Fifth Ave.; 206.325.4161; spectrumdance.org.
Word to the wise: many of the seats in the balcony come with a partially-obstructed view. Sit as close to the front as possible, or come prepared with patience.