Stage: Spectrum Dance Theater

Three embraces from Byrd and friends.

There’s an embrace in each of the three works Donald Byrd has programmed for Spectrum’s fall show, but they exist in very different worlds. The evening begins with a valentine and ends with a threat, with a high-fashion strut in the middle.

Crispin Spaeth debuted Only You in 2010, and she’s continued to polish the work, so its gentle qualities really glow. A series of duets and trios, where partners slip in and out of relationships, Only You belies its title, but there’s no real jealousy involved. The dance opens with a slowly swaying duet, and continues with that sense of ease, no matter who’s onstage with whom.

That kind of playfulness is light-years away from the world of Olivier Wevers’ new Back, Sack and Crack. His cast strides through the space with a kind of grim sophistication, men and women all teetering on sky-high heels. While some of the figures he uses—the outcast who yearns for acceptance, the disdainful beauty who literally steps on others—are far from unique, he’s continuing to develop his skills as a craftsman, taking movement and shaping it into larger dance structures. He goes a long way toward freshening familiar dance stereotypes.

Byrd is celebrating 10 years as Spectrum’s artistic director, and he’s spent that time developing a high-intensity repertory and a group of performers to match. Dancer Jade Solomon Curtis put her finger on it when she said that Byrd’s work is like a statement written all in capital letters. His new piece, A Meeting Place, seems based in the same kind of political curiosity that animated his 2008 A Chekhovian Resolution, which concerned Israeli/Palestinian relations. Two cadres of dancers, complete with cargo pants and machine guns, share the space with the kind of uneasy tension that could lead to disaster. Byrd outlines the work like a debate, with statements and rebuttals, but it feels closer to a military parlay, with slashing arms and fast footwork for weapons. The Renaissance dance music gives the work a sense of perpetual motion, while the orchestration—for ud and lute, played by Münir Beken and August Denhard—underlines the cultural differences suggested onstage. As always, Byrd has made a work that challenges the dancers and the audience, physically and intellectually.