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Originally published October 10, 2009 at 8:13 AM | Page modified October 10, 2009 at 10:16 AM

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Review: Spectrum Dance's Byrd Retrospective melds the graceful, the athletic, the sensual

Spectrum Dance Theater's dancers never merely "step." Instead, they slice and slap and stomp ... see for yourself at the Byrd Retrospective Festival, weekends through Oct. 25 at Spectrum in Seattle.

Seattle Times arts writer

Additional performances

Byrd Retrospective Festival

Spectrum Dance Theater performs 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 25. Madrona Dance Studio, 800 Lake Washington Blvd., Seattle; $18 single tickets, $40 festival pass (206-325-4161, www.spectrumdance.org or www.brownpapertickets.com).

The dancers never merely "step." Instead, they slice and slap and stomp, wielding their bodies like percussion instruments. And they don't just get airborne — they get catapulted.

They also swivel, sway, judder, slide and collide.

And they act. Oh boy, can they act — whether it's in the taunting erotic showdown of "Sexual Cannibalism," the mournfully stylized rituals of "...and their souls will understand," or the dance-diva spoof of "M.I.A."

Spectrum Dance Theater's three-week "Byrd Retrospective Festival" is happening at the company's studio digs on Lake Washington Boulevard, and it's the perfect place to see Spectrum in action: an intimate space with a bouncy floor that serves as a kind of timpani, vibrating in tune with the dancers.

"Retrospective" offers two kinds of overview of Spectrum's activities. It surveys artistic director Donald Byrd's work with the company since his arrival in Seattle in 2002 (with glimpses of his New York choreographic past), and it takes measure of the company's talented young performers, too.

Friday night's program demonstrated Byrd's versatility at blending every kind of move — ballet, drill-march, sex wriggle — in combinations that always surprise, yet are cohesive. On the dancer front, Spectrum lost two key artists over the summer, Hannah Lagerway and Lara Seefeldt, but the turnover hasn't noticeably slowed them down.

Newcomer Amber Mayberry, taking over some of the airborne work that Lagerway used to do, is a tiny dynamo, unfazed at being lobbed into the most unlikely positions during the skirmishes of "Sentimental Cannibalism" (1993).

Ty Cheng hit new fluid peaks, his technical prowess pushed to the point of abandon, in the closing solo of "...and their souls will understand" (2004).

Meanwhile Vincent Lopez and Tory Peil, who both joined the company in 2008, were hilarious in "M.I.A." (2007) — Lopez as a grass-skirted diva of uncertain ethno-cultural origins engaging with Peil's towering ballerina in a battle that took some eccentric detours into pole-dance and pop-dance vernacular.

Peil delivered a star turn of a different kind in the world premiere of "Le Sacre," a work in progress set to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Here, she was innocence personified, lured into carnal action by Joel Myers: the ultimate detached erotic predator. The pair's athletic partnerings bristled with strength, sensuality and extraordinary feats of balance. (Note: "Le Sacre" played Friday only; works by Gus Solomons Jr. and Olivier Wevers take its place the other two nights of opening weekend.)

The festival continues with two must-see guest stars on Oct. 16-18: Jamal Story and Allison Keppel. It closes Oct. 23-25 with two must-see pieces from Byrd's backlist: the sexy "Bhangra Fever" (in excerpt) and the thorny Brahms-set "Klavierstucke."

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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