Petruchska review in The Seattle Times

Published in the Seattle Times

Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka,” it turns out, sounds just dandy as fairground-organ music.

The familiar tunes of the 1911 ballet, delivered in rinky-dink style, are the first thing to greet you as you approach a ragtag carnival set up behind Spectrum Dance Theater in Madrona Park. Other features of the festivities include a pair of hula-hooping/boa-waving dancers, some makeshift midway attractions and popcorn and hot-dog vendors for those feeling hungry.

An outdoor stage stands ready for action – and it eventually comes in the form of a crass and charismatic “Charlatan” (Donald Jones Jr.) determined to lure customers into his “Puppet World.” The journey involves going indoors and out, upstairs and down. But while components of the experience have a lurid, visceral strength, the transitions between them can be cumbersome.

Donald Byrd’s new multistage production of “Petruchska” (Byrd’s spelling of it) is a complete reinvention of his 2006 re-casting of the 1911 ballet at the Moore Theatre. It’s an adventurous use of Spectrum’s limited space, but some kinks in logistics and narrative pace still need to be figured out.

One thing that works just fine is Jones’ smiling, sneering emcee spiels (he and Byrd co-wrote the script). This little circus, it seems, is in even worse shape than it appears. The fat lady has gone missing, and the Ethiopian glass eater (“You like recycling, right, Seattle?”) doesn’t exist.

Jones, after sweating these setbacks with a desperate grin, then lures his audience inside to “a place where inanimate bodies can move.”

Upstairs, in Spectrum’s studio theater, he delivers as promised. In a fog-filled room, seven puppets in misshapen white costumes (Spectrum ensemble dancers) howl in fear of him. But his three special treasures – Petruchska (Vincent Michael Lopez), Columbine (Jade Solomon Curtis) and the Moor (Ty Alexander Cheng) – adore him to a craven degree. He takes pleasure, too, in their embraces and caresses, until abruptly scowling and shrugging them off.

We’re in “Island of Dr. Moreau” territory here as much as the realm of folklore, and for the short time Byrd places us there, it works.

The next stage – where, thanks to some high-tech wizardry, we spy on the offstage lives of these puppets – puts the audience in the voyeur’s role. It’s a clever, twisted touch, even if it does take away from the immediacy of the dance energy. Lopez, Curtis and Cheng, as three unhappy points in a love triangle, mix fight choreography, sexual bravado and dance vigor with their usual fearless prowess. You can’t help wishing you could witness their conflict in the flesh, though.

The show’s finale, back outside, unfolds in a way that uses the whole building. But that fourth move, and the lag in getting the action going the minute the audience is outside, sink the momentum of the piece. Mishaps with the stage set and Jones’ costume also tripped things up Friday night.

No doubt Byrd will tighten “Petruchska” over the course of its run. But his experiment does suggest that, when you’re dealing with material as intense as this, there’s a good reason to place it inside a single, tight, unifying frame as he did at the Moore.

Sound Design by Scott Colburn