Byrd's 'Bristle' kicks off Towson series

Dance on the Edge

What: Donald Byrd/The Group


When: Today and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Stephens Hall Theatre, Towson State University, 7900 York Road


Tickets: $11-$15

Call: (410) 830-3369 Donald Byrd's new dance is provocatively titled "Bristle," but in a recent telephone interview the New York-based choreographer's demeanor was smooth and easy as he explained how a former Tufts University theater major made the switch to dance.

"My drama coach always said I was a mover." Mr. Byrd says. "Movement is language, and language is often shaped."

" 'Bristle' is a combination of pure dance forms that are bent, so you might say it has been directed."

This weekend the choreographer-director will bring his troupe of four men and four women to Towson State University to perform the premiere of a full evening's worth of "Bristle" as the season opener for the Dance on the Edge series.

The work is in three acts with music by Mio Morales and Ravel. According to the choreographer, it investigates relationships, the rites of seduction and stereotyped role-playing.

"Seduction is a challenge, a challenge that both men and women have with each other," he says. "Appearance is just one thing that has been used by men and women. Women have used various mechanisms to get power, like fainting. What could be more enticing than fainting? It draws you in, yet at the same time it repels."

After studying on scholarship with Alvin Ailey's company in New York in the early '70s, Mr. Byrd moved to Los Angeles where in 1976 he founded his own company. He has worked with Robert Wilson, Twyla Tharp and Karole Armitage, and has choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. After gaining recognition on the West Coast, Mr. Byrd returned to New York in 1983, where he and his dancers have garnered critical acclaim.


Yet, Mr. Byrd is no stranger to Baltimore, where he worked with Eric Overmyer in the Center Stage production of "The Heliotrope Bouquet by Scott Joplin and Louis Chavin" as well as on the original musical theater piece "Honey Chil' Milk" at the Maryland Art Place.

While conceding his admiration for the works of George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham, Mr. Byrd says he is beyond emulating artists.

"When you first begin to choreograph or do anything, you learn by imitation. But I have my own voice. Who I am as a person is reflected in my art.

"Before, when I was just beginning, I thought of myself as an artist first, then as an African-American. Now, I know that my art is the direct result of my experiences as an African-American," says Mr. Byrd, whose style has been described as a "colorful blend of classical, contemporary, jazz, Afro-American and street dances."

Mr. Byrd says his dances are not overtly politicized; rather, it is the timelessness of a situation that interests him.

"I think the reason people go to the theater is to experience being alive. The audience expects to see risk-taking. . . . They want to be shown something unique, or told something that will give them insight into their own lives. They are looking for the 'Aha!' either emotionally or intellectually or both."