Dallas — It has been a busier-than-usual month for the Dallas dance scene. September and the opening weeks of school are usually a time where the dance community begins its preparations for the season ahead. The last four weeks have been anything but a slow ease into the busy period of fall dance. After the highly successful and varied Dallas DanceFest at the end of August, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, MOMIX, Bruce Wood Dance, and a lively DanceAfrica festival knocked our socks off week after week. The momentum and buzz raged on in full anticipation of the Seattle-based Spectrum Dance Theater, directed by Donald Byrd, coming to Dallas as TITAS’ third event of an already stimulating season.
Unfortunately, that excitement cooled Saturday night at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, as SDT premiered Byrd’s 2012 emotionally charged creation LOVE to Dallas audiences. Presented in three acts, each 25 minutes with 15-minute intermissions between, the work also highlighted the talents of world-renowned cellist Wendy Sutter as she masterfully played selected works from Benjamin Britten. That’s right, folks, we were treated to live music for the entire show. So why did the house feel emptier after each intermission?
It certainly wasn’t due to the opening segment.
Two raised stages dress the upstage. One faces front for Sutter and her assistant and the other stands at an angle to form a diamond. A similarly faced square light pool defines the performance space in the downstage area. Principal dancer Vincent Michael Lopez marches onto the scene, crossing the raised stage and coming to the front of the floor. From the moment his muscles move to form the first shape, his can see his unique, fluid movement quality shining through his ballet technique. His meticulously isolated torso, beautifully extended limbs, and luscious sensitivity to the music are awe-inspiring.
Shadou Mintrone joins him for the first duet, which consists of typical contemporary ballet vocabulary—plenty of arabesques and suspended moments to display their abilities. The varied choreography looks like a conversation is happening between two people. Lopez executes a maneuver, and Mintrone responds. It’s gestural choreography that moves throughout the entire body.
In quite a few moments, they appear to simply move from one fixed position to another, between seemingly unconnected movements. Overall, it’s very musical, and at times is reminiscent of Cunningham. Moments of intimacy come when they touch foreheads, but their connection (or lack thereof sometimes) portrays a somewhat disjointed relationship.
That sense of coolness changes when Alex Crozier appears and begins a more sensual duet with Lopez. Passionate embraces and virtuosic jumps give this section a little more fire than the last.
And thus continues the pattern of couplings, mixed in with some ensemble work. Most of the white-clad dancers change partners somewhat frequently, while another pair seems to stay together almost the whole dance. The non-verbal conversations continue, sometimes with more arm and elbow movements. The complex movement vocabulary travels between sharp, angular motions to more fluid ballet types. Chaos in the music leads to faster, frantic duets performed in canon, so that the whole stage bursts into frenzy.
Mintrone and Lopez connect in the second act for the most intriguing segment. Stumbling around with outstretched hands, they act as if blinded and looking for the other. Birdlike spasms and more instinctual movement breathe fresh life into the piece, since the constant use of extensions had begun to grow tiresome. The third act’s highlight presents Madelyn Koch and the four men (Crozier, Gordon, Lopez, and Andrew Pontius) executing a breathtaking ensemble, in which they mold Koch into various shapes, rarely letting her touch the ground.
After 75 minutes of the dancers searching and sometimes finding another, we connect back with Lopez, who still looks indecisive. After rejecting yet another dancer, he ends alone in a heartbreaking conclusion. For those patrons still left in the audience, it nicely—if sadly—brings closure to a difficult ride.
Throughout the work, one must play close attention to stay focused on the progression and relationships; otherwise, it just looks like the dancers execute random stuff. The movements are beautiful and obviously have meaning. Sometimes audience members get so caught up in deciphering the choreography that they overlook the sheer beauty of it. The fast, specific maneuvers in this work, however, seem to force audiences into interpretation rather than letting them enjoy the experience.
This brain game combined with the monotony of the production probably contributed most to the slow emptying of the Winspear that night. Each intermission saw more patrons leaving, which makes one question the wisdom of having two of them, when other arts events have success with one long act, sans the mid-show break. The experience is tedious and worth it in the end, but it definitely appeals to a small niche.