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June 26, 2009

By: Adrienne Jean Fisher

Today, I will be talking about Larry Keigwin's dance company, Keigwin + Company, which performs this week at The Joyce Theater. But, first, I would like to talk about my first experience seeing Larry Keigwin's work, which happened not too long ago at the Juilliard Ensemble show this past December. Larry set a piece on the graduating class, Runaway, which totally blew my mind with its daring, boundary-less use of the stage as stoically scary and robotic isolations accented his driving club beats at unique and very syncopated points in the music, making his work appear very non-traditional even considering the commercial aspects of it. Now, we all know how super-humanly talented and finely selected each and every one of the Juilliard children are. There have been instances in which I will see a work that has been set on this fine bunch and think, "I have met the work of my new favorite choreographer!". But, then I'll see the choreographer's company in a full repertory performance, and I am just plain bored at best. This is NOT the case for my viewing of Keigwin + Kabaret, whose opening night gala happened this past Tuesday at The Joyce Theater.

Keigwin's repertory maintains all of the awesome traits that I saw on the Juilliard kids including (but definitely not limited to) being daring, uniquely robotic, scary and having interesting choreographed rhythms counterpointing the traditional beat of the music (except for the really hard to count opening piece Natural Selection). Most of all, Keigwin + Company is absolutely BOUNDARY-LESS in everything from the use of the stage (including wings, proscenium and backdrop) as a prop and dance partner as well as the unique way in which the company partners and relates with one another and the audience.

IMG_2226Right before Natural Selection opens the night with a stunning bang, we see the dancers warming up on stage with the house lights up. As the winds and rain of a thunderstorm bring the dancers to an opening position, the house lights dim down. Many moments in Natural Selection cause dropping jaws and bulging eyes. The most jaw-dropping moments are when the dancers run upstage to the exposed brick back wall to create a human set of stairs for Ying-Ying Shau to run up in order to literally run sideways on the brick wall so that her body is perpendicular to the ground. After she runs up the human stairs, two men assist her so that she can maintain the eery sideways running pose.

The coolest part about this is the quickness in which they form the stairs and grab Ms. Shiau, so that by the time she is up and running on the wall, you almost wonder how she got up there, maybe causing one to wonder, " Is Larry Keigwin touching on choreographing illusions and magic?". In the midst of Ms. Shiau running on the wall, a beautiful jet� floats over the big square hole in the brick wall (if you've been to The Joyce Theater, you know that this is the spot in the brick back-drop where you'd think a window would otherwise be, but this is just a big, square inset in the brick). Throughout the piece, Ms. Shiau continues to climb the human steps and onto the wall as if searching for a window as she pounds on the wall. Each attempt leaves her exhausted, an exhaustion that is brilliantly portrayed on her face and her body simultaneously, reinforcing how effective being an "acting dancer" is.

Each time the dancers approach the window-less brick, a bright light floods the section of brick that is being traversed while all of the other lights come down, highlighting the drama of these wall-scapades that continue to jolt every viewer because of the briskness in which it happens. Keigwin clearly and intelligently points out here the process of natural selection and survival of the fittest, even if it means literally stepping on other people to make your way to the top. Bravo!

IMG_2228Love Songs uses the love songs of three artists to portray three different types of relationships with three dynamically different duets. The music of Roy Orbison ("Blue Bayou" and "Crying") is danced to by Ying-Ying Shiau and Alexander Gish and touches on the shy, first stages of love or even a first date. Throughout much of the first piece, danced to "Blue Bayou", they abstain from making eye contact such as when they step touch side by side with their chins coyly resting on their own hand as if posing for a glamour shot. Just when the audience least expects it, Mr. Gish, quickly pulls down Ms. Shiau's skirt revealing black bloomers. Clearly embarrassed (another fine example of Ms. Shiau's acting ability), she pulls them up just as fast as they were pulled down, but continues on with the shy dance as if nothing ever happened.

Liz Riga and Julian Barnett do a fine job of depicting a teasing bait (leggy and sassy Liz Riga) and a really easy catch (Julian Barnett) as they get down and thrashy to Aretha Franklin's "Baby, I Love You" and "I Never Loved a Man". In both sections, Ms. Riga shows off her ability to make each move, whether it be a flick to the front or a simple soutenou, electrically alluring and sexy from the her loose, flying hair to the tip of her toe. These luring moves drive Mr. Barnett absolutely wild, which sparks some extremely comedic moments such as an entire phrase of music being dedicated to isolated (and alarmingly fast) pelvic thrusts. Mr. Barnett clearly wants her bad and finally throws himself on her leg and, like a little kid, clings tightly as Ms. Riga drags him off stage.

Larry Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott really shine in the world of Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "I Put a Spell on You". It becomes instantly clear that these two people were meant to come together to create Keigwin + Kabaret. Precise is the best word to describe this duet. Their world is one of unexpected and counterpointing rhythm. They freeze, not when the music says to freeze, but when the music says to go, re-shaping the music as we see it. Sometimes, they lay on the ground and just isolate their hands, which maybe wouldn't be so effective if they weren't as precise as they are. Their relationship speaks of something unconventional because of the unconventional way that they approach the music with syncopated arm, head and leg movements including their lifts that sometimes end earlier than one would think possible just to emphasize a certain beat (or lack of a beat) in the music, making the viewers gasp!

Tonight is the world premiere of Larry Keigwin's new work, Triptych, and oh what a trip it is. Triptych has a lot of elements of Runaway, including the driving club beat that is mostly "danced" to by walking. How is that interesting you ask? Well, I haven't seen much that's more interesting because of the extremely sharp arm-ography that waves over head as they walk forward with intensely indifferent (yes, that is an oxymoron) stares on their faces with gazes that shoot through the proscenium like laser beams.

As they walk at right angled patterns like rats following a sharp angular maze en route to a piece of cheese, their heads never move, making the dancers seems like robots. Their feet pound the stage floor with ferocity with each step matching the intensity of each pulsing beat in the music. The hand and arm choreography is extremely intricate in that it rhythmically counterpoints the music (Keigwin is a master at counterpoint). Once again, the company's precision is highlighted here as they all walk as far down stage as possible and execute arm-ography that looks almost impossible to count, yet their precision causes goosebumps.

The periods of walk-ography are interspersed with jumps and turns, each of which seems to defy logic like the double attitude jump into a tour that ends impressively premature before leading into a light as a feather fall to the ground. Imagine an entire communist army marching, marching, marching, and all of a sudden, five members of the group freeze as the rest keep marching. This is exactly what happens on the very last beat of music! The whole group is marching, marching, marching and then, all so suddenly, two people freeze in their tracks as the rest keep pounding the stage with their feet. Keigwin's choreography is so intense and precise in Triptych, causing his dancers to match the energy of an army of 100,000. As they march off stage, the crowd roars louder for this world premiere than any of the pieces thus far on tonight's roster.

keigwin 2Bicycles, balloons, a two year old girl, a little black dog, a man in a speedo, a long red carpet, hot strutting divas talking on cell phones, and 50 umbrellas all live in the world of Bolero NYC...oh, and did I mention everything on stage is some combination of black and red? Most everyone cast in this piece is not a dancer, an element that brings refreshment and fun to the end of the evening. Bolero NYC is a piece that was originally commissioned by the Skirball Center for Performing Arts as part of Dance Party!, and I have never wanted to get up and dance more. Here, Keigwin brilliantly highlights many typical moments that bless the day of a New Yorker many times a week. One of my personal favorite moments is when a wind blows crumpled newspapers across the stage as someone struggles to walk against the wind and a woman breaks down in tears....all very independently of one another, independent being a very typical trait of a New Yorker!

A New Yorker rarely flinches or stops for anything whether it be a crying woman or a red carpet being rolled out under their feet. Yes, a red carpet does get rolled out in the midst of chaos on stage - a chaos that includes the man in the speedo popping the cork of a champagne bottle before pouring a glass for the woman circling behind him, who had just been seducing the audience as she mouthed the words "I Love You!" After the red carpet is rolled out, a processional of kids with balloons, the ol' bicyclist, the man in speedo and the whole crazy gang parties down the carpet all the way off stage.

There is a brilliant section in which everyone onstage opens up an umbrella for umbrella-ography when one umbrella turns all the way inside out at which the audience laughs out loud. At one point, the entire stage clears to reveal a two year old girl holding a balloon. As she stands there looking inquisitively at the audience for at least ten seconds, we melt at her cuteness and wonder, "Where did this little girl come from", as she has been hidden amongst the 50 people on stage thus far. There are so many endless questions for Larry Keigwin because of the puzzling yet harmonious picture that he creates on stage.

Larry Keigwin has the ability to constantly surprise his audience with Keigwin + Company. Whether it be something as small as a nuanced hand or head movement at an unexpected moment or the use of a stage with its backdrops and wings as props and partners, making the work seem site specific, Mr. Keigwin pushes boundaries so far away that they don't exist anymore. Adding to his cleverness is the versatile talent, including comic chops, of his fine company, which produces just one conclusion: the sky is the limit for Larry Keigwin - or is it?

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