Spectrum Dance Theater
“A Rap on Race”
Metro Opera House, Oakland
February 10, 2018
Great Promise/Bad Show
Donald Byrd choreographed and directed the show. Ann Devere Smith joined him to develop the script which was developed as a conversation between Margaret Mead, anthropologist and James Baldwin, author. In the production Byrd was Baldwin: Kathryn Van Meter was Mead. There were thirteen dancers. Two were African-American. The rest, but one, were white. Fortunately the music was “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” by Charles Mingus. The music was the best.
In the ‘new’ venue for Cal Performances, the Metro Opera House, on 2nd Street in Oakland, the dancers, who are skilled in the jazz-ballet style that Byrd has choreographed, alas, could not been seen. Much of their dance consists of large swinging, jumping, lifting moves which then land on the floor. Given the sight lines of the house, no floor work was visible. This reviewer was sitting in the fourth row. The dances also follow very consistent beats in the music; the patterns grow repetitious and dull.
On a high platform Van Meter and Byrd delivered the “Rap.” The electronic settings for the voices were loud and shrill and, although the arguments were good (and sometimes hard to follow), it became unpleasant to pay attention to the shrill sound. The dancers and the Mingus music provided relief from the arguments that went back and forth, round and round.
Somehow it might have worked had the dancers been up on a platform, the speakers down close to the audience so as to provide a sense of conversation, not lecture, and…the dancers work might have been well seen. The ideas are good; the dancers are skilled; the music is great, but the show did not work.
Joanna G. Harris
“Rap on Race”