Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Donald Byrd, Could You Do (IM)PULSE Again, Please?

(IM)PULSE (Nate Waters)

Spectrum Dance Theater
(at Seattle Repertory)
June 15 to July 2, 2017

Mia culpa! I apologize to myself and to readers for not going to see (IM)PULSE earlier and letting you know how great it was so you would be motivated to go. This effort by Donald Byrd and his company, Spectrum Dance Theater, was a direct gut punch of excellence!

Byrd wanted to create a performance response to the shootings last June at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida. He wanted to make the point that it involved not just gay people and allies, but gay people of color in particular that were the predominant attendees. To do so, he created dance around two written pieces – a short verbal description of a horrific gay-bashing of a friend (by David Wojnarowicz who died of AIDS in 1992), repeated over and over, and a longer play by Brian Quirk, Marrow, that was adjusted to be performed by a solo performer.

The effect folds in aspects of historic gay-bashing and AIDS issues, and the effects on the internal struggles with anyone discovering s/he is LGBTQ and therefore not quite part of the mainstream America zeitgeist.

The first part of the piece with the repetitive horror of the gay-bashing is the most dance intensive with sounds of crowds and dissonant music by Bob Ostertag (helped by sound designer Robertson Witmer), vivid projections (by Travis Mouffe and Shawn McQuate) and urgent dancing by Alex Crozier, Blair Jolly Elliot, Paul Giarratano, Ni-Amina Minor, Robert Moore, Madison Oliver, Alexander Pham, Emily Pihlaja, Andrew Pontius, Fausto Rivera, Mary Sigward, Lena Silverman, Jaclyn Wheatley, and Sherman D. Wood. The very end of that portion was a hail of bullets into an actor, Craig MacArthur.

An extremely effective dance sequence has Crozier and Rivera duet as attracted to each other, with Crozier pushing away from any physical embrace as the word “faggot” is repeated over and over. This is so vivid that it would have been crystal clear even without any word repetition at all.

The second part uses a hospital gurney and gowns to suggest that the bashed or shot person is hospitalized and now struggling to recover. MacArthur seamlessly transitions from the struggling patient into quick moments of his Latino mother, his partner, his physical therapist, and memories of his own past life. MacArthur is completely mesmorizing – made more so by live video projection of him on the wall behind the gurney.

And then he seizes. And trembles. And the projections become fuzz and the dancers express the turmoil. Over and over. The transitions make the audience sort of hold its breath.

Toward the last minutes, the character wonders how someone can hate that much, to do so much harm to so many. The character tries to list what he hates – mundane things like fruits or vegetables. The dancers pop out as he counts what he hates as numbers. He ramps up. Eventually he gets to Trump. And shortly after, he begins to read a very long alphabetic list of famous Americans, dead and living, that we could not be without who are/were Gay.

The performance is masterful and heart-breaking. It deserves to be mounted again and toured, as well. I hope that Byrd will do that so that more people can see and experience this momentous dance theater piece!

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