Rambunctious: a Celebration of American Dance and Music, by Spectrum Dance Theater

Salutations sympathetic simians! I hope everyone is having a relaxing Saturday. Saturdays are for swimming and Survival Assays in these parts.

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2100 yards and what do you get? Endorphins!
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Grow little bacilli, grow! Grow so that I can drug you!

My Saturday has been fairly typical. However, yesterday night Alli and I got all dolled up and went out on the town.

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The pictures of class and sophistication!

We attended a performance by Spectrum Dance Theater at Washington Hall.

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Spectrum Dance Theater is a Seattle dance company that was founded in 1982. In 2002, the acclaimed choreographer Donald Byrd took over as the company’s artistic director. Under Donald Byrd’s guidance the company has endeavored to present contemporary dance that engages with challenging social issues. I am a huge fan of Spectrum Dance theater. I attended every performance of their 2013/2014 season. The overarching theme of this season was: “America: Sex, Race, and Religion.” Each work explored american identities and conflicts associated with those identities. My favorite piece that I saw this year was “Prodigal,” a modern re-telling of the parable of the prodigal son, presented through dance as a full-jury trial. In Frebruary, Alli and I attended “The Minstrel Show: Revisited,” which explored minstrel-ry and racial identity in the 21st century. Donald Byrd is a master of blending the contemporary and the classic to explore deeply charged issues with insight and humor. Attending a performance by Spectrum is an emotional roller coaster.  The dance is always beautiful and precise, but the way the dancers relate to each other can be anything from funny, to sensual, to frightening. The dancers are technically masterful: you can sense the strength and purpose in all of their motions. Additionally the dancers themselves all are (gorgeous) unique-looking human beings: they don’t look like “typical” ballerinas…they are MUCH more interesting.

source: http://spectrumdance.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/CompanyWeb1.jpg
source: http://spectrumdance.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/CompanyWeb1.jpg

What I appreciate most about Spectrum is that each piece often takes the audience on a journey through a range of emotions. The work can boomerang from hilarious to deeply unsettling in the span of a plie, which is engrossing, even if it can be challenging. I strongly believe that art should elicit a strong emotional response; Spectrum’s dancers and choreography by Donald Byrd usually evoke myriad sentiments. Unfortunately, Friday evening’s presentation, while it certainly had its powerful moments, left me feeling a little flat. Before I get into why I didn’t care for “Rambunctious,” I just have to say that I hold Spectrum Dance to a pretty high standard: they are usually AMAZING. Here’s an excerpt from an older work called “Love.” I was fortunate enough to see a re-working of this piece titled “Autopsy of Love” last year.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/45341676″>Excerpt from Donald Byrd’s LOVE</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user6364767″>Donald Byrd</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I think this piece is gripping, beautiful, sexy, and disturbing. The dance tells a story, sometimes the story is confusing, sometimes it is joyful, sometimes it is dark. Unfortunately, my experience of “Rambunctious” didn’t evoke the same complexity and excitement that I have experienced at Spectrum’s other productions.

“Rambunctious” was a celebration of contemporary dance and five American composers. A live string quartet (with a trumpet accompanist for one piece) provided music. Four of the pieces had accompanying choreography, one was presented as music only. We witnessed dance set to “Schero for String Quartet,” by Charles Ives; “Kol Nidre,” by John Zorn; “String Quartet No. 2 Op. 24,” by Vincent Persichetti; and “String Quartet No. 2” by Charles Wuorinen. We also saw the music-alone world premier of “Quintet for Trumpet and Strings,” composed by Don Krishnaswami.

The highlights of the evening were the second piece (“Kol Nidre, by John Zorn) and the music-only quintet. I might be showing my hand as an uncultured rube, but I thought that the rest of the pieces dragged on unnecessarily long. I may lack an appreciation for modern composition, but I found the atonal elements of each piece slightly repetitive. Additionally, the majority of the music was pretty down-beat. I usually like Spectrum because every piece has a mix of humor, excitement, sadness and every other emotion you can think of. This evening the overall mood was decidedly dour. I was even a little confused by the title of the show: “Rambunctious.” This work is supposed to be a celebration, yet the music and the choreography felt somewhat depressing.

Spectrum’s dancers are incredibly precise and strong. Throughout the evening every single move was performed with palpable ferocious intention. This is amazing to watch, yet, to my eyes, the movements lacked a sense of joy and reckless abandon. It was as if they were “dancing-angry” all evening long. I am not advocating for chaotic choreography all of the time, but the pieces themselves gave off a sense of fierce devotion rather than celebration. This was certainly  arresting, but also emotionally exhausting. I was worn out just watching the artists execute every single position with such rigid determination, as though the modern atonal score were the marching orders of a military band.

I don’t need dance to be uplifting of pretty. However, I would have appreciated a little variety throughout the evening: every piece was somber, and deadly serious. The dance was impeccable, and, individually, each piece of music was interesting. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was not a significant emotional journey within or between each piece. I actually enjoyed the music-only piece more than any other, because it was different.

I will continue to support Spectrum, and their 2014/2015 season is sure to be amazing! I’m particularly looking forward to seeing their rendition of “Caramina Buyrana,” after attending a workshop presentation in March.  I wish that they could have closed the season on a higher note. “Rambunctious” could have been an exuberant celebration, yet it felt like an obligation.

What are your guys’ thoughts on: Modern Dance? and Modern Composers? I’m trying to learn more about dance–I know I like to watch it, but that’s about it. 

2 thoughts on “Rambunctious: a Celebration of American Dance and Music, by Spectrum Dance Theater

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