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Monday, March 26, 2007

An Open Letter to Donald Byrd and the Dance Critics at the Times and PI

posted by on March 26 at 11:05 AM

Dear Donald Byrd:

Never-Mind last weekend at the Moore was shameful. Awful, boring, insulting. And a waste of the on-stage talent.

Choreographing to Nirvana? Great. (Though your picks were a little juvenileómostly the abrasive tracks, as if you were less interested in exploring the music than making the dance fuddy-duddies squirm. Am I right, Donald?) The background dancers? Okay. (Though their spasming and hurling upstage through Pennyroyal Tea was distracting and too goddamned literal.)

But the Kurt and Courtney characters? Fucking awful. Awfuller than I can express. Those poor, capable, misused dancers. Never has so much technical ability been blown on something so vapid. It was like watching Virginia Woolf being forced to write greeting cards.

The bad wigs, the floppy flannel, the eyeliner, the lip synching, the ripped jeans, the bad wigs, the freeze-frame silent screams, the heavy-handed boring-ass literalism, the tired Courtney-killed-Kurt overtones, the shotgun blasts, the whole goddamned thing was an embarrassment. I say this as an admirer, Donald: Do yourself a favor and please, please, please don’t ever mount Never-Mind ever again.

The first two acts were greatóthe short dance vignettes over Mystikal’s aggro-rap were weird and fun. Your spazzy techno-nightmare remix of the 1841 ballet Giselle (with vampire ghost ladies!) was awesomely creepy and heartbreaking:


You’re great, Donald. A gutsy, shit-talking, my-way kind of guy. I’m glad you’re around.

But walk away from Never-Mind. Pretend it was a fever dream. Act like it never happened.


* * *

Dear Alice at the PI and Mary at the Times

“Byrd at his best”? The “spot-on grunge-rock costumes”?

Are you all fucking nuts?


RSS icon Comments


Brendan: I'm no expert, but I'd have to agree with most of what you wrote here. "Never-Mind" was "Mamma Mia"-esque at times, especially with the lip synching.

Dressing the dancers as Kurt and Courtney was a really bad decision. You can tell that Byrd is a transplant who didn't live in Seattle in the 90s.

The hip-hop piece was great. I dug the live painting backdrop.

By the way, where'd you get the Giselle photo you've posted? I'd like to know who was taking photos throughout this performance on Friday. It was incredibly distracting.

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2007 11:18 AM

Oh, and I just read the P-I piece. The headline writer fucked up. In the article, the phrase "Byrd at his best" is a reference to "Short Dances/Little Stories" not "Never-Mind." Still...

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2007 11:22 AM

I mostly agree...there were brief moments when I liked the Nirvana piece (the moshing lunges at the back wall I actually liked) but there were so many problems; that awful wig...too much Courtney....all the ridiculous heterosexual pairing....the costumes were sooooo bad, (are they going to reuse them for their upcoming participation in West Side Story?)...the vomiting during 'Pennyroyal' was sooooo bad...isn't Donald Byrd aware that that song is about abortion and not kurt's tummy troubles? and the music needed to be LOUDER....the place should have been rocking....

I loved the Giselle piece...and from a homoerotic viewpoint, the male dancer (peter de grasse) was smoking...and uh, very healthy...

Didn't love the hip-hop...I'm assuming Donald Byrd is African-American (judging by his credits) but the dancers weren't and I always find it a little painful to watch when white folk try to interprete non white culture...(like non asians doing tai-chi; it doesnt' look 'good'....)And what's with all the pieces incorporating drug addiction and the tired cliche of dancers rubbing their arms as if they need a fix? he used it in both the hip-hop and nirvana pieces and it was lame...

oh, and l did love the painters...esp. the one who did some dancing at the end...the only authentic moment in that piece, dance wise...

the most haunting moment at the show, for me, was realizing that Nirvana had actually perfomed on that stage...

Posted by michael strangeways | March 26, 2007 11:31 AM

They should've hired the Massive Monkees. They tore the floor up to Nirvana's you know what at the opening of the OSP. Best dance performance to Nirvana ever.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | March 26, 2007 11:42 AM

@3: Your racial comments are ridiculous. Should black folks not dance Balanchine?

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2007 11:55 AM

@5 & 3:

Well, white people can dance hip hop (and um, the b-boy at the end was white, so I'm assuming 3 isn't completely categorical), but Spectrum's dancers cannot. They're all trained in classical ballet--and they're not the cream of the crop there either--and they look downright stiff, uncomfortable, and lame in the other genres Byrd dabbles in.

Posted by annie | March 26, 2007 12:01 PM

doug, i didn't say that, did i? i said white folk look ridiculous (frequently) when they attempt to appropriate non white cultural endeavors...(cornrows, tai chi, hip hop dancing, karate and other martial arts, ie Chuck Norris/Steven Seagal)...I never said or implied the opposite. Non 'white' people can and frequently do perform so called 'white' or Northern European influenced cultural activities with great style and talent, (ball room dancing, golf, Shakespeare in the Park, ice dancing)and don't look stupid at all.

Posted by michael strangeways | March 26, 2007 2:15 PM

Why don't they do a ballet about the Foo Fighters? Or Sweet 75?

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2007 4:21 PM

I thought the Kurt character was....not horrid. After the shock of his Hideously Bad Wig wore off (approx. 10 minutes). But the Courtney character was weak and ineffectual, and basically came across as some random floozie. No matter what you think of Courtney Love, you can't really say she has weak character.

I completely agree about the ham-handed literal metaphors. We get it, scratching at one's inner elbow indicates a need for a smack fix. That trick works especially well if it's used in two of the evening's pieces. And the vomiting? Well, that was just funny.

If you'll search the PI archives, you'll see that Alice Kaderlan has had a hard-on for Donald Byrd for years. He could create a dance in which someone walks on stage and takes a dump and she'd rave about the beauty and sophistication of a cutting edge piece that other Seattle artists could only hope to imitate.

Posted by genevieve | March 26, 2007 10:57 PM

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