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The Next Thing for Mr. I-Can-Do-Everything
By ROSLYN SULCAS
March 4, 2011
THE NEW YORK TIMES

IS there any kind of stage or dance work that Larry Keigwin hasn’t yet turned his hand to? And are there possibly two of him? (Actually there are, sort of. Keep reading.)

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
The choreographer Larry Keigwin.
Dancing at bar mitzvahs and weddings? Check. Working with Serious Downtown Artists? Check. Ballet dancers? Rockettes? Check, check. Putting on cabaret? Creating concert dance programs? Musicals? Fashion shows? Choreographing people in the street? Making site-specific pieces? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Mr. Keigwin, it seems, is everywhere without being a household name. On Tuesday his troupe, Keigwin & Company, will open a weeklong season at the Joyce with “Exit,” his new full-evening work. A New York season is a coveted achievement, and often it’s all that a choreographer works on for several months. But Mr. Keigwin, who was still creating the work just three weeks before the premiere, has had many other fish to fry.

Last summer Damian Woetzel, the former New York City Ballet principal who directs the Vail International Dance Festival, named him the festival’s artist in residence. Mr. Keigwin’s company appeared at the Fall for Dance festival, and he staged the opening show at New York Fashion Week, using 175 models. Just a few weeks later he was one of three dance creators — the others were the ballet stars Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon — commissioned by the New York Choreographic Institute to celebrate its 10th anniversary. And somewhere along the line he choreographed a revival of “Rent,” opening in New York in summer, and a workshop version of “Tales of the City,” set to have its premiere in San Francisco in May. (He also has a coming commission from the New Zealand Ballet.)

Nonetheless “Exit” is an important moment for Mr. Keigwin, who has generally received positive critical notices but has hardly been hailed as a major contemporary dance figure.

“He has it in him to be an artist of rewarding originality,” Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times in 2008. “Most of the evening, however, suggests he finds it convenient to make choreography that is at best cute.”

Given his eclectic interests it’s not entirely clear whether Mr. Keigwin has a burning ambition to be the Next Great Thing. Clean cut, with boyish good looks and a friendly, engaging manner, he frowned as he addressed that issue recently over breakfast in SoHo.

“I try not to put boundaries on what I do,” he said. “I always feel like we surprise ourselves, and I never say never. But I do want my work to have a large audience. I would love to have a very successful Broadway show that is my creation.”

Mr. Keigwin’s work is witty, kinetic and musically responsive, mixing the stretched lines of ballet with the more weighted, blunt quality of contemporary dance, often integrating everyday gestures and pop-culture references. It’s accessible yet ambitious, and the combination — together with his openness to theatrical possibilities and lack of snobbishness about his art — has won him a lot of fans in the dance world.

“Larry is all about being creative in whatever the circumstances,” said Mr. Woetzel, who first saw Mr. Keigwin’s work when they shared a Fall for Dance bill in 2005. “And that leads one to a lot of different circumstances.”

Mr. Keigwin’s background is slightly unlikely for a choreographer. He grew up in Wading River, on Long Island, with three brothers, one of them his twin. (Hence two of him.) His brothers wrestled and played sports (“they were very jocky”), but he gravitated toward gymnastics and later a circus training program and school musicals.

“I told my fifth-grade teacher that I could tap-dance, which was not at all true,” he recounted. “I borrowed a friend’s tap shoes and just faked it. The first time I went to a dance class was in high school, when, strangely, modern dance was offered as an alternative to gym. Then someone said, ‘You should come to ballet with me,’ and I did.”

The arrival of MTV coincided with Mr. Keigwin’s discovery of dance, and he auditioned for the program “Club MTV,” getting a job as a backup dancer in a few episodes. Later, while earning a degree in dance at Hofstra University, he spent weekends performing at bar mitzvahs and weddings.

“During the week I had this serious concert dance life, and on the weekends I had this crazy partying, physical life,” he said. “It made me money, and later it supported being a freelance downtown choreographer. I’ve always had that duality, between contemporary and commercial work.”

After graduating Mr. Keigwin danced with an impressive variety of artists, including John Jasperse, Jane Comfort, Julie Taymor, Doug Elkins, Doug Varone and — most important, he said — Mark Dendy. It was Mr. Dendy who suggested that he choreograph and who put Mr. Keigwin’s first effort, a solo, on his own program at the Joyce.

Encouraged, Mr. Keigwin worked with Nicole Wolcott to create “Mattress Suite,” a collection of brief dances, and its success in various group shows led to a solo program at the Joyce SoHo in 2003 and a string of commissions, including three from Juilliard. “The energy makes the work very accessible,” said Lawrence Rhodes, director of Juilliard’s dance division, “and it is both very human and loaded with dance technique.”

But although Mr. Keigwin is certainly capable of producing sophisticated movement, his great gift is for spatial organization. In the brilliant 2007 “Bolero NYC,” created with Ms. Wolcott and set to Ravel’s all-too-well-known composition, he used 50 nondancers and 8 company members to create a memorable collage of urban life that featured little formal dance.

In “Exit,” however, entertainment seems less prominently on the agenda. With a new score by the electro-acoustic cellist Chris Lancaster and the pianist Jerome Begin, seven dancers incarnate ideas about addiction and dependency, although Mr. Keigwin is quick to stress there is no literal story.

“It feels good to go out on a limb to make a 60-minute piece,” he said. “It’s the longest process I’ve been involved in with my company, and I’ve taken a lot of cues from the dancers.”

Like most choreographers Mr. Keigwin does not employ dancers year round. Would he like to have a permanent company to explore these kinds of processes? Mr. Keigwin paused.

“That is the truest creative outlet,” he said. “But I do want the freedom to accept commissions. If Lady Gaga called, I’d want to be able to accept that.”


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