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Ruth Eckerd Hall celebrates 25 years with song and dance


Renowned choreographer Donald Byrd and contemporary jazz giant David Benoit have both created many works that have been staged in performing arts centers.

But creating a tribute to a performing arts center was something a little different.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Ruth Eckerd Hall, so hall officials commissioned Benoit to compose a celebratory piece. The result is Suite for Ruth, co-written with Dave Koz.

Byrd, a former Clearwater resident who is now artistic director of Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theater, then was asked to create an accompanying dance piece.

The world gets its first look at the dance Friday when Spectrum performs it at the hall. Benoit also will be there, performing with the Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Band.

For Benoit, writing music about a concert hall was more about the atmosphere than the place.

"I just tried to get the right uplifting, inspirational mood," he said in an interview from his California home. "I wasn't so much thinking about Ruth Eckerd Hall itself as I was trying to get that vibe."

Byrd used the suite as a launching pad for something a bit more literal.

"The music is very pleasant, pretty," he said. "So you start from there. And then I started researching the biography of Ruth Eckerd and Jack, her husband, and I learned about all their philanthropic work, especially with children. So I went into that, and the plan right now is for a large number of children to come on stage at the end of the piece."

The 10-minute piece is one of four works on the Spectrum program Friday.

Byrd spent his teen years in Clearwater in the 1960s, and remembers the time fondly.

"I had a lot of friends, there was always a lot to do," he said. "I was very happy, at a time in life when you're not usually happy."

He went on to become one of the most important choreographers of his generation. He headed his own company in New York, Donald Byrd The Group, for many years, and made several visits to Ruth Eckerd Hall with that company. Local audiences have also seen several of his works performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He became artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater in 2002.

"Coming back to Clearwater always gives me a chance to reconnect," he said. "I see old friends, and I see relatives, and they get to experience a part of my life they don't usually see."

Marty Clear is a freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected]

Review: Spectrum Dance Theater

The company performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $25-$40. (727) 791-7400;

Ruth Eckerd Hall celebrates 25 years with song and dance 04/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 19, 2008 4:30am]
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