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Flash Review 2, 3-12: 'Byrd-lesque'
A Decade of Byrd: What it is! (And what it isn't)

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2002 Angela Jones

NEW YORK -- I find it endlessly fascinating how perspective changes over time. It may seem obvious that one's experiences shape how one views work, but it is interesting to note specifically in what way. Having just returned from Berlin, I found Donald Byrd's retrospective of his last ten years of work, "Byrd-lesque," seen Saturday at the New Victory Theater, shockingly American -- complete with cheese, flash, high kicks, corny jokes, lots of unbound energy, and even some hackneyed magic tricks thrown in for further entertainment value. In the program notes, Byrd writes: "Byrd-lesque might be thought of as self-examination, a little therapeutic perhaps. As I re-encounter the past, I may gain some insight and understanding into why I made the choices I have made." Seeing his work with this understanding in the background made me also realize how I have changed my own viewing over the last ten years.

What I found interesting was that although Byrd's statements indicate some kind of evolution in his work, I must profess that I saw little difference between the pieces. The first two consisted of raw virtuosic movement, dramatic music, and dancers dressed in black. The second two pieces were more theatrical in that they included shtick, silly costumes, over-the-top dramatic faces, and more elements of traditional partner dancing. However, the basic choreography relied totally on the energy and technique of the dancers to pull off perfect turns, 6 o'clock penchees and very fast jumping sequences. I found myself starting to count the number of kicks in a given piece. I also found myself eavesdropping on the 8-year-olds next to me. "I am sooo bored," announced one, the companion replying, "Me too -- when is this over?" Here these dancers were taking years of training and unflagging energy and executing very difficult work, and it still couldn't even seem to excite a child 5 feet away. The reason being that it was essentially the same energy, same style simply regurgitated over and over. No pauses, no tender moments, just unrelenting dance Olympics.

However, there was something endearing about this extravaganza, despite all of the above, that I can only see more now that I have been away from the U.S. for a while. The German folks who are visiting me came with me to see the show and they loved it. They loved the unapologetic flare. It made me realize how much I did miss seeing that go-for-broke physicality, that desire to be more entertaining than intellectual, and that sense of presentational magic even though we all know it is an illusion. It really was entertaining, balls-out dancing. Period. I could relish what it was when I stopped thinking about what it wasn't. And I was then able to appreciate it in the end (with even less jaded eyes than those of a child).

Donald Byrd/The Group continues at the New Victory Theater through Sunday. For show times and other information, please visit the New Victory web site.

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