Hangar 30, Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA; September 19, 2014

Dean Speer

Ty Alexander Cheng and Shadou Mintrone in Spectrum Dance Theatre’s 'LOVE'.  Photo © Nate Watters

Ty Alexander Cheng and Shadou Mintrone in Spectrum Dance Theatre’s ‘LOVE’.
Photo © Nate Watters

I was charmed when I found evidence of Listerine toothpaste in the men’s room sink prior to the start of Spectrum Dance Theatre’s “LOVE” program. This told me that this dancer not only adheres to good dental hygiene but also is one of the many who cannot perform without having brushed their teeth first; I’m one of them. It also reminded me of one of the many pithy sayings of Madrona Dance Center’s first director, Bill [William] Earl when cautioning students and dancers about the wisdom of wearing jewelry, commonly rings or watches, in class or rehearsal, that he “…found it difficult to find ‘center’” when adorned with such accouterments. Madrona Dance Center was the precursor to Spectrum’s 1982 birth. Only the essentials and nothing extra on stage.

Choreographer and Artistic Director Donald Byrd gave us the bare essentials for “LOVE”, a full-length evening in three sections set to three of Benjamin Britten’s cello suites. With Spectrum’s beautiful and amazing dancers interpreting, each third was interesting and very, very well executed. The company is blessed to have some of the best dancers in the region, including the return of prodigal Vincent Michael Lopez. The dancers all have excellent technique, control, extension, razor sharp feet, and a deep passionate commitment to what they do.

Re-staged for a space new to this dance – it was originally commissioned by Russ and Tricia Stromberg and first performed in 2012 in a former downtown Seattle historic church – I enjoyed the vast openness of the old airplane hangar formerly operated by the Navy. With the dancers and sole musician (cellist Wendy Sutter) on three white risers and in white costumes, and the audience on two sides sitting on the flat cement floor, it was actually easy to view the dance and hear the music.

“LOVE” overall is a strong piece yet what weakness it may have lies not at the feet of the choreographer but at the feet of the composer. Created between 1964 and 1971 for the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, I found that one suite was interesting enough to listen to, but the three together were too similar. This similarity, unfortunately, found its way into the choreography, where – while each was beautifully and impeccably danced – movement sections seemed like they could be interchangeable, somewhat like where in hymnody words can be interchanged with alternate tunes.

There is a saying that Russians are happy when they are sad, and while the music was composed by an Englishman, the Russian tunes Britten inserted and upon which some of the suites are based, didn’t seem to want to lend themselves to us seeing differing aspects of love. Both Martha Graham (“Diversion of Angels”) and Jerome Robbins (“In the Night”) had it right by purposely showing us love at different stages: youthful ardor, maturity, even a troubled relationship. Just about the only letup in the seriousness of “LOVE” was toward the end of the third suite, where one of the lovely female dancers turned in attitude poses and seemed to float with lifted arms, swirling and surrounded by others of the cast.

The multiple movements of each suite were represented by alternating solos, duos, trios, and small ensembles. Byrd gave us a few ‘tutti’ moments. This was very smart as these centered the dance and calmed us in the audience. From a choreographic compositional standpoint, usually we see too many unison ensemble sections in dances – unison is and should be used for effect – but in this case, Byrd’s use of it was minimal, and I would have liked to have seen more. It would have strengthened the work.

As Spectrum Dance Theatre continues its mission, I’ve been impressed with how creative they have been in coming up with interesting and exciting alternate performance venues in the greater Seattle community and, of course, reveling in enjoying beautiful dancer artists who bring their A game to the table. With only a handful of performances scheduled for 2014-15, I do wish we could see them more often, as I can imagine, they do too.

If you missed “LOVE” in Seattle, you can see it in Tacoma on Saturday October 11 at the Tacoma Armory, 715 South 11th Street. Details here.