Keigwin + Company
On the verge
by Natalie Bostick
Larry Keigwin is an anomaly in the dance world: an overnight success. His dance troupe, Keigwin + Company, premiered in March 2003. The initial reviews were great to reverential. Since then he has received two American Dance Festival (ADF) grants, participated in the New York Choreographic Institute at New York City Ballet, and performed at the Fall for Dance festival at New York City Center. He has done several fellowships at universities across the country, including New York University and Bates College.
Earlier this summer I was invited to watch Keigwin + Company at work. The rehearsal was for a piece to premiere at the American Dance Festival in North Carolina. The performance was a month away, and Keigwin was just more than halfway finished with the choreography. The dance is called “Orbit.” It is for five dancers, and the music is by Steve Reich.
When I arrived, the dancers were taking a break. Keigwin was discussing the concept with his associate artistic director, Nicole Wolcott, and Gus Solomons (Wolcott’s parents, visiting from Montana, were in attendance as well. This was their first trip to New York City). Solomons was an early advocate of Keigwin + Company. He reviewed their debut concert and has since hired Keigwin to choreograph for his dance company, Paradigm. On that day he was acting as a mentor.
Revived by a bag of gummy candies, the dancers got up and resumed practice. As the music started, the dancers walked out from the downstage and upstage wings on stage left. They passed each other on a half circular path back into the wings, some making eye contact, some not. Two men circled each other, joined hands and exited together.
Then the tempo picked up. The dancers followed each other out of the wing in a line, dancing a complicated footwork sequence in unison as they circled a fixed point offstage. The individuals had become a tribe. Its orbit around the pole expanded and changed footwork. Pairs broke out of the circle and ventured into center stage.
“Fierce!” Keigwin yelled as two pairs of dancers moved into center stage. Two men were seated as two women boureed in sixth position around them. The men followed the women with their gaze. The ending (at that time unfinished) started with two men facing the audience. They danced a pattern reminiscent of an African dance.
A few weeks later I met with Keigwin to discuss his work. We talked about orbits, inspiration, his goals, and how he feels about his success.
Larry Keigwin was born in 1972 on Long Island, New York. He attended the local public school in Wading River. It was there that he took his first dance class. A neighbor saw him perform in a high school musical and told him he should be a dancer. He liked the idea.
Keigwin went on to major in dance at Hofstra University. “As soon as the idea of being able to major in dance was presented to me that was it.” His senior thesis was a full-length program of his choreography titled, “Keigwin + Company.” The name stuck, although he did not mount his own professional show until nine years later.
Keigwin’s own performance career took off before he graduated. A faculty member invited him to dance in her concert at the Joyce Theater. He danced for several New York City-based choreographers. A summer at ADF led to a job dancing with Mark Dendy.
Keigwin danced with Dendy Dance and Theater and in 1997 became its Associate Artistic Director. He won a “Bessie” award for his performance in “Dream Analysis.” Their relationship gave Keigwin experience and exposure. Together (with Keigwin as his associate choreographer) they worked on the Off-Broadway musical “The Wild Party” and a Radio City production. It was Dendy who encouraged Keigwin to choreograph a solo for his company in 2000.
After his solo went on tour with Dendy’s company, presenters and festivals started inviting him to attend as an emerging choreographer. He soon realized he had enough material for his own show, and Keigwin + Company was reborn. The debut concert was in March 2003 at Joyce SoHo.
Keigwin’s choreography is often described as “exhilarating” and “explosive.” There are a lot of big, sudden movements in his work; he favors outstretched arms and legs. These movements give the impression that the dancers are always reaching for something beyond themselves. And they take up a lot of space. “Angels of Anxiety,” performed at the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center last September, is a dance for twelve people, but onstage they looked more like forty.
Despite the early critical acclaim (or maybe because of it), Keigwin’s oeuvre is inconsistent. When it is good, it is almost perfect (the trio of “Mattress Suite” is a joy to watch). Anything less than perfection from Keigwin is disappointing. The problem may be inexperience, and more work will even things out.
“I love the idea of relationships orbiting: people orbiting around people.” His new dance “Orbit” animates the saying “a circle of friends.” I could tell by watching rehearsal that he does get along well with his company. His dancers are old friends (as in the case of Wolcott) or referrals (in other words, friends of friends). The working atmosphere is collaborative. Sometimes they do something to inspire him; an idiosyncratic movement can find its way into the theme of a new dance.
“Dance is physical!” Keigwin implores. He is deadly serious. But one of the refreshing things about Keigwin is that he is not afraid to be entertaining. Although it is modern dance to the teeth in terms of its physicality, his work is never esoteric or inaccessible. He feels that choreography is a skill that kind be applied to any dance technique or dancer. “It’s a talent that can cross boundaries,” Keigwin says. “I want to work all of it.”
Good news, but paradoxically, Keigwin is a choreographer who instinctively knows how to limit himself. His best dances explore only one movement idea or theme. His dance for Paradigm is called “Finger Suite,” and explores the range of the index finger. His work at the New York Choreographic Institute, “First Arabesque,” is a coolly elegant study of arabesque lines. “Mattress Suite” looks at intimate relationships around a mattress that is used as a wall, a platform, a trampoline, and a bed.
Listening to his story, it seems as if the entire dance community is conspiring to make Keigwin the next big choreographer. One thing has quickly led to another for him. Now his task as an artist is to learn to navigate the business and administrative side of the dance world. It can be a challenging transition.
Last year’s successful season pushed Keigwin to develop a board of directors. He hopes it will provide him a professional support structure, but he doesn’t want the growth of Keigwin + Company to come at an aesthetic cost. Keigwin reminisces about the earlier days. Costumes were cheap, and dances were designed with necessary limitations. He wants to stay true to that spirit. At the same time, he sees growth as an opportunity to give back to his dancers. He would like to increase their salaries and maybe take them to Broadway where they can get health coverage.
Keigwin likes to work. Keigwin + Company is booked through 2007. In addition to that group, he directs the Keigwin Kabaret, which he hopes to develop into a musical. The Kabaret’s next performance will be in April 2007. “I have the confidence to show my work to anybody,” he says. He prides himself on not being a “bastard to work with. Presenters and producers like that.”
The next performance of Keigwin + Company is at Dance New Amsterdam in New York City, November 10 - 12. For a complete performance schedule, visit www.larrykeigwin.com.
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