Spectrum Dance Theater

October 6, 2006

Spectrum Dance Theater
The Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA

October 6-7, 2006

Reviewed by Gigi Berardi

David Alewine, Tanya Wideman-Davis, Allison Keppel, and Peter deGrasse in Petruchska

Photo by Chris Bennion, courtesy Spectrum Dance Theater

Artistic director Donald Byrd’s
offers a story of violence thriving in society and operating on different scales. In this retelling, Byrd’s ringmaster is a “mistress” who tries to involve the audience in her exhibitions. Danced by a commanding Christina Cooley, cavorting around the stage and taunting the audience, she introduces the work and then corrals the “Club Revelers” in vocalizations that punctuate it.

Lighting designer Jack Mehler uses a flood of lights, shot directly into the audience, to great effect. The raucous revelers, including a most engaging Richard Isaac, were unnerving with their strange pas de deux. These dancers showed a demonic behavior (even their lips and legs are distorted), like gargoyles about to pounce on the whimpering Petruchska.

The Brute, Peter deGrasse, was every bit the antagonist to David Alewine’s tragicomic Petruchska. DeGrasse’s wild swings gave a feeling of implosion. All the moves in Byrd’s choreography are bold and grotesque; some of the ballet ornamentations, however—for example, the petite batterie—proved distracting.

The dancers moved into their poses of simulated sex with extreme flexion, the mistress documenting every back arch with flash photography. As Columbina, Allison Keppel, Spectrum’s veteran performer, delivered sharp échappé arabesques and off-balance fouettés to get Petruchska’s attention, then fell into a limp, desperate stance.

DeGrasse’s emotional rage, Keppel’s ambiguity, and Alewine’s vulnerability, together with Byrd’s chilling libretto, were unforgettable. The costuming—bits of spandex, tattered vinyl, in vibrant colors—added to the carnival-like atmosphere. Stravinsky’s discordant score was beautifully played, live, by Trio Diaghilev, three skilled Italian musicians, featuring both Antonio Palareti and Daniela Ferrati’s dexterous piano, accompanied by percussion.

Byrd’s Miraculous Mandarin, with music by Béla Bartók, has similar themes: seduction, treachery, murder. A colorful scenic design by Craig Wollam conveys a cluttered, filthy attic—a smoky room where street noises filter in. This erotic ballet gives terrifying images of its victims, and the carefully plotted tale is macabre enough to be an intriguing study. Alewine as a leader, Issac as a victim, and deGrasse as The Mandarin were frightening characters, with Danielle Wilkins as the girl with no life of her own. See www.spectrumdance.org.