Donald Byrd originally created "Shards" for Alvin Ailey's second company, the Repertory Ensemble. But the ensemble's director, Sylvia Waters, gave the legendary choreographer a peek at Byrd's production, and Ailey swiped it for the primary company.

It's the only piece that Byrd produced for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the company is presenting it twice this week at the Kennedy Center.

"Shards" is an abstract piece, says Byrd, based on first impressions and actuality. "The piece is really a deconstruction," says the dancer-choreographer. "It's about, in some ways, the idea of romanticism and how, in romanticism, you're supposed to behave, and the stuff that's underneath it, the ideal we have which is supported by something more visceral than that."

Byrd takes a romantic image, projects it in both the movement and the score, and then tears away at the surface. The music and the dance become more harsh and devastating as the performance progresses.

"It's like an old photograph that's been packed away, and when it's brought out, it breaks up -- the edges disintegrate," he explains. "{This image} is reinforced in the piece. In the beginning you have an image, and it breaks up. And the rest of the performance looks at those pieces."

"Shards" will be presented Thursday and Saturday nights as part of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater's week-long run at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Showtimes are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.50 to $32.50 and available at the Kennedy Center Box Office or by calling InstantCharge at 467-4600.