Dance Alloy Theater premieres Donald Byrd's stunning "No Consolation." | Theater Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Dance Alloy Theater premieres Donald Byrd's stunning "No Consolation."

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Dance Alloy Theater's Scott Lowe and Maribeth Maxa in a scene from Donald Byrd's "No Consolation." - PHOTO BY FRANK WALSH
  • Photo by Frank Walsh
  • Dance Alloy Theater's Scott Lowe and Maribeth Maxa in a scene from Donald Byrd's "No Consolation."
In her four years as artistic director of Dance Alloy Theater, Beth Corning has presented important original and classic dance works including Per Jonsson's Schakt, Joe Goode's I don't want to be there and José Limon's The Moor's Pavane. With their new production, Corning and company again up the ante by offering perhaps the most emotionally powerful work in the company's 31-year history -- the world premiere of Donald Byrd's "No Consolation."

One of three works on DAT's season-ending program, Fragile, Bryd's piece for the company's five dancers is a gut-wrenching exploration of how people deal with the process of grief.

"No Consolation" was inspired while Byrd was in Pittsburgh setting his work White Man Sleep on DAT last season. The Tony Award-nominated (for The Color Purple) choreographer saw WQED-TV's documentary Row on for Brendan, about a concert in memory of Central Catholic High School student Brendan Foley, who died in a bicycling accident in 1996. Byrd decided to create a dance work about what goes on for those left behind by death, especially the death of a child. "No Consolation" became the first chapter in a multi-part nationwide project about human stories cut short, entitled The Interrupted Narrative.

In a March performance of "No Consolation" at DAT's sneak-preview series Behind the Curtain, I witnessed DAT's dancers awash in unabashed pain, sorrow and anger, pouring their every fiber into Byrd's taxing choreography. In a work set to traditional Irish music, DAT's dancers engaged in a torrent of Irish step dance-influenced movement seething with emotion. Strikingly violent clashes between the dancers were taken to self-destructive extremes.

"The work is kind of like the expressionistic paintings of Francis Bacon," says Byrd. "Everything from its composition on through is there to support its emotional impact."

Byrd, known for his intense work ethic in the studio, says he also tapped into the dancers' personal stories of grief to find emotional states that informed the work. According to dancer Stephanie Dumaine, the process "brought us to tears daily during the work's creation."

"I am interested in what is human and what it is we share and how we connect to one another," says Byrd. "I want people to recognize themselves on some level in my works."

The other two works on the April 13-16 program include MacArthur Fellowship recipient Susan Marshall's signature duet "ARMS" (1984). At only five minutes in length, "ARMS" is a concise gem built almost entirely upon natural gesture. Set to an original score by Academy Award-winning composer and hip-hop producer Luis Resto, it's a structured series of glances, touches, entanglements and facial expressions that create a unique narrative about the relationship of two individuals.

Rounding out DAT's program is artistic director Corning's own "Flight," a new work she likens to poetry and the soothing comfort of being read to. "Flight" is inspired by Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg's prose poem "Accidents," in which he writes: "Hundreds of birds suddenly break out of a hole in the sky. It's an air ballet for migrating birds." Corning's work outfits DAT's dancers in heavy, rumpled white-linen costumes and embraces Straumsvåg's imagery to suggest that, as Corning says, "the dancers could do anything at any moment."

Certain to be among the very best this dance season has to offer, Fragile's collection of humanistic dance-theater works is a must-see. It has the potential to be among DAT's finest hours.

Dance Alloy Theater Fragile Fri., April 13-Mon., April 16. The New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $18 ($13 students and seniors; or $20/$15 at the door); the Sun., April 15, matinee is "pay what you can." 412-363-4321 or www.dancealloy.org

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