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Originally published October 19, 2009 at 11:08 AM | Page modified October 19, 2009 at 1:16 PM

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Review: Weekend 2 of the Byrd festival at Spectrum is heady stuff

Review: Weekend Two of the Byrd Retrospective Festival consists, in part, of explosions of ballet classics — but with certain aspects of the source material clearly revered by Spectrum Dance Theater artistic director Donald Byrd, even as he turns them inside out.

Seattle Times arts writer

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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; $15-$18 single tickets, $40 festival pass (206-325-4161, www.spectrumdance.org or www.brownpapertickets.com).

Weekend Two of the Byrd Retrospective Festival on Friday consisted, in part, of explosions of ballet classics — but with certain aspects of the source material clearly revered by Spectrum Dance Theater artistic director Donald Byrd, even as he turns them inside out.

Case in point: "I've Got the Wilis," an excerpt from Byrd's "Life Situations: Daydreams on Giselle" (1995). Byrd makes his Wilis — female spirits eager to revenge themselves against the cads who jilted them — vamp it to the max in Louise Brooks wigs, garish red tops and plenty of swishing crinoline (the better to entrap the Man Who Done Them Wrong: Joel Myers, in fine craven form).

Tory Peil, as the dominatrix-like Queen of the Wilis, and Kylie Lewallen, whose Giselle can't entirely succumb to hate, make this marvelous dance theater — with the accent on "theater." Byrd's choreography is fast, furious, sharp, quivery, always bent on keeping the psychodrama going at pressured pace.

"Wilis" isn't Byrd's only venture into fraught psychosexual territory. Flocks of females threaten poor Myers (again!) in the finale from Byrd's "Sleeping Beauty Notebook" (2005). Here, eight Beauties instead of one all wake with comically wrenching spasms and groans from years-long slumber. Setting eyes on Myers, they're famished for connection. Guest artist and former Spectrum dancer Allison Keppel, as the one bold enough to reach for the prize, has a field day with her part.

Another guest artist, Jamal Story, filled in for an injured dancer on the highly demanding "Quartet" (1993). Story, Peil, Kelly Ann Barton and Ty Alexander Cheng made vibrant work of the piece, in which two erotically entangled couples eventually combine into a wary foursome. Story was also paired with Keppel in a much too brief, giddily gymnastic excerpt from "Short Dances/little stories" (2004).

By contrast, Merce Cunningham's "Landrover" — a sort of rainbow-colored abstraction — was a drier affair, impeccably danced, with Peil and Lewallen in especially good leggy form.

Friday nights are the Retrospective's "surprise nights." This one had Byrd himself doing improv to old Django Reinhardt tunes, comically highlighting the limitations of his 60-year-old body while casting a strong shadow of the dancer he must once have been.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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