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Keigwin + Co

'Showtime', ' Twelve Chairs', 'Boys', 'Runaway', 'Girls', 'Seven', 'Megalopolis'

by Andre Yew

March 1, 2013 -- Lobero Theatre, DANCEWorks, Santa Barbara, California

DANCEworks is a remarkable, singular endeavor for dance. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty still lingering from the recession of 2008, DANCEworks does for dance what almost no one else will even in prosperous times. Artists and companies are invited to Santa Barbara, California for a month-long residency in a theater to create new work with no expectation of a finished product. Most companies are happy to have even two weeks to stage a new work complete with sets, costumes, and lighting. A month to just create is luxury.

DANCEworks, along with its previous incarnation, Summerdance, has been supporting creative artistic residencies for well over a decade, and is a remarkable effort that deserves more recognition and support.

It's a pity then that this year's artists, Keigwin + Company, squandered this opportunity. Set within a haphazard program that should have been a journey that prepares, builds, and then rewards the audience for coming along on an adventure, the two works created in this year's DANCEworks are trivial and unmemorable.

The program began with Showtime, a short video ( shot and edited by Larry Keigwin and Jaclyn Walsh with Santa Barbara residents dancing. A nod of the hat towards the Santa Barbara community, the video also sets a mood of fun and campiness to kick off the evening. Unfortunately, little of either followed. Instead, we saw small-scale choreography that was often dwarfed by the stage on which it performed, and superficial expression and development of the few ideas it did have.

Twelve Chairs was the first piece up. A poor copy of Ohad Naharin's chair sequence in pieces like Minus 16, Twelve Chairs apes the physical conceit (dancers sitting on chairs in various geometric formations) but does little with the idea. Dancers are mostly stuck in or near their chairs, and the lone dissenter in the group is never shown or projected very clearly, nor does she even dissent with any interest. As visual design, Twelve Chairs had little contrast and projected itself poorly because of it. It would not be the only piece to suffer from this.

Boys followed next with its Eartha Kitt soundtrack and a sparkly tinsel curtain for a backdrop. Four men wore variations of a school uniform: white shirt, grey tie, and grey pants or shorts. Perhaps young students horsing around after school, there was never a clear idea of why they were doing what they were doing. There was a relationship amongst the 4, but it was not fleshed out in any way, so I didn't really care who they were.

Runaway closed out the 1st act. Perhaps the strongest piece of the night, Runaway had an interesting idea to expose our social mores with a stylized fashion runway show, but ran out of steam halfway through. With women in 1960s mod dresses and bouffant hairdos, and men in dark suits, white shirts and dark ties, and both soon stripping down to their underwear, we get it: you're trying to show what's going on underneath. And it seems that all we get underneath are either generic sociopathy or posing. There was a lot of setup but little payoff as the punchline was insipid.

The 2nd act opened with Girls, the complement to Boys, and one of two pieces created in this year's residency. Like Boys, Girls had a blue tinsel curtain for a backdrop, and added red and silver curtains that drop down later in the piece. The girls wore grey, high-waisted pants with red suspenders and white sleeveless button-up shirts and danced to Frank Sinatra songs, mirroring the design of Boys.

But who were the girls? They looked like the wait staff fooling around in the ballroom after the guests have left. That's not a bad premise, but we didn't see any reason why they were there. Their small-scale choreography with steps and phrases usually seen in So You Can Think You Can Dance solos doesn't illuminate the situation. Nor does being dwarfed by the stage and 3 enormous sparkly curtains help matters much.

The second piece created at this year's residency, Seven, followed next. Looking incomplete with the dancers wearing rehearsal clothes, with no sets, a simple lighting scheme and an unimaginative name (guess how many dancers were in it?), Seven's strongest feature was being the only interesting group choreography of the night. Contrast Seven's flocking group movement with the simplistic unison or canon work of the other pieces of the program. If only it had been developed further instead of looking like an experiment, and had something to say. A month is a very long time to say nothing.

Closing out the night was Megalopolis, using the world's most hackneyed futurism for its design. In the future, everyone dresses in either black or silver skintight body suits that are really shiny, and parties in raves by vogueing. Scalloped shoulder pads by Ming The Merciless are also really in. But beyond being an energetic end to the evening, why are we watching this? For a company based in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, their vision of the urban future is remarkably vacuous.

So ends this year's DANCEworks, and it feels like a wasted month. Perhaps it isn't, and the two new pieces will go on to successful lives, but judging from the rest of the program, I doubt it.

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