'Bristle' crackles with sexuality, dynamic dancing


"Bristle," New York-based choreographer Donald Byrd's new work that opened the Dance on the Edge series at Towson State University on Friday night, is a work with so much voltage that at times it's tantamount to putting your finger into an electric socket.

"Bristle" pulsates with energy, primarily sexual energy and Mr. Byrd's work investigates the war between the sexes, or at least the subtle skirmishes, with unabashed primal power. The result is a dance that is exciting, bold and ultimately satisfying.

Set in three distinct acts, with an infectious percussion score by Mio Morales plus a bit of Ravel (in the second act), Mr. Byrd's dance aptly telescopes the life of a relationship, from the overt to the intimate. The physical attraction seen in the first act is transmuted to gossamer romanticism in the second, which is then stripped down to basic needs in the third.

Yet "Bristle" isn't just an intellectual exercise or an emotional revelation.

What remains with the audience are the dynamic and high-powered performances of the eight dancers that comprise Mr. Byrd's company The Group, and the superb skills of Mr. Byrd's choreography.

Mr. Byrd's sense of theatricality, his ripe humor and his ability to mete out intelligible phrasing within the dance make "Bristle" riveting on all levels.

In the first act, the premise is set with four men and four women standing single file on opposite sides of the stage. They approach each other, size each other up with a wariness and soon engage each other. When a couple does connect, the movements are willfully manipulative.

Yet, Mr. Byrd does not always place the woman in a subservient stance. The balance of power is like a fulcrum wildly tipping toward the men, then toward the women.

In one section, a woman takes the traditional role of the male, lifting him and supporting him while he performs classically attuned movements. Both men and women share in the struggle for power, and it changes constantly. When the dancers strip down to their underwear, it's more to do battle than to become intimate.

The second act is blanketed in a fog of romanticism. Again the original motifs are examined, but here they are glossed over with a softer, more lyrical quality. The beginning steps of a waltz are seen but the dancers never really consummate their dance.

Mr. Byrd closes the dance with a series of intertwining pas de deux performed by two couples. As they dance, the movements become more and more intricate, but more importantly, they are shared: she supports him, he lifts her and the final image of both couples is a full body embrace.

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