Larry Keigwin + Company: Sparkle and Sass
Review by Bess J.M. Hochstein
Photos: Christopher Duggan courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow
When putting together each summer’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ella Baff ensures that the schedule includes something for everyone. This weekend’s pairing of Keigwin + Company in the Doris Duke Theater, while Ballet Genève performs in the Ted Shawn, is a case in point, and a study in contrasts. While Ballet Genève’s Romeo and Juliet is dark, serious and sober, Keigwin’s program of four dances is a bright and shiny evening of frisky, flighty, frivolous fun.
Megapolis kicks off the evening with a high-energy energy jolt, in what seems to be mash-up of the classic silent film Metropolis and fabulous—here’s what would happen if Fritz Lang’s downtrodden workers took a hit of ecstasy and went to a rave. Clad in black and silver unitards, most with a splash of sequins, the corps performs angular, mechanized movements to Steve Reich’s Sextet-Six Marimbas, adding to the percussive score with their unison stomping across the floor in gridlike patterns and diagonals. When the music abruptly changes to MIA’s techno beat, they instantly transform into club kids vogueing on the dance floor. As the score shifts back and forth between Reich and MIA, we come to realize how different the same movement sequences appear when set to music of contrasting beats and intensity.
It’s only natural to think of Les Ballets Trockardero de Monte Carlo when Bird Watching opens, with all dancers, including the men, clad in leotards with short, sequin-belted tutus and accessorized with sparkling rings that glint with every gesture. This parody of classical ballet works because Keigwin’s dancers, like “The Trocks,” have a solid foundation in classical technique, if not the uniform Balanchine bodies. Set to Hayden’s Symphony in D Major, the dance riffs with classical steps, stances, and structures, but flies far afield from Swan Lake’s fluttering arms, incorporating twitchy birdlike moves and raising thoughts of ballet’s pecking order as the dancers break from conformity to vie for audience attention, strutting like preening peacocks—though the laugh-out-loud choreography turns them into funny ducks. Ending the piece in the V formation of migrating birds, each dancer embodying look-at-me vanity, we see every one of them as a silly goose.
Runaway heightened the evening’s glam quotient, with its bright-lights-big-city take on a ferocious fashion show. Backlights glare through fog as the dancers robotically strut their stuff on the catwalk. The women sport short neon dresses and wildly teased bouffant wigs—the men, black suits with skinny ties—as they speed-sashay along the stage’s perimeter and venture into the audience with glamazon intensity, propelled by a thumping electronica score commissioned for the dance. Occasionally a female strikes a pose and freezes, only to be carried or dragged off the stage like a mannequin—which is, of course, another term for model. Runaway’s ferocity of movement, music, and attitude feels like an assault on the senses. Fenzy builds as half the dancers strip down and the women continue to parade in neon underwear straight out of the Victoria’s Secret catalog. The final dance of the evening, it elicited whoops and hollers from the stands.
Love Songs, third in the program, was the only piece devoid of sparkle and glitz, except in its sparkling choreography and execution. This masterful set of six dances set to two songs apiece by Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone—each portraying a couple in a different phase of love—provided the calm that allowed the individual dancers’ skills and strengths to shine through in clear, clever choreography. Emily Schoen and Aaron Carr (left), dancing to Orbison’s songs, embodied sweet playfulness and innocence in their dances, while Ashley Browne and Gary Shaufeld presented a more mature, disillusioned, cynical kind of love in their duets to Simone. But the evening belonged to Kristina Hanna and Matt Baker (below) in their lively, lusty, and flat-out fun duets to the Queen of Soul, in which the dynamics of their relationship unfolded and shifted, largely through Hanna’s come-hither attitude and knowing sidelong glances and Baker’s portrayal of a guy who thinks he holds the cards but is clearly under the thumb of his sexy mate. At Love Songs’ conclusion, the onstage transformation of Emily Schoen from innocent waif to one of Runaway’s supervixen, with a coterie of male dancers helping her apply make-up, wig, and hairspray, was a brilliant moment.
Love Songs in particular brings to mind the early work of Mark Morris, who debuted his own Love Song Waltzes in the 1980s. But Keigwin also brings Morris to mind for their mutual ability to create fun, engaging dances and for building troupes of strong, skilled, committed dancers of varying body types and allowing the dancers’ individual personalities to shine.