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Keigwin + Company

Works & Process at The Guggenheim

by David Mead

May 20, 2013 -- The Guggenheim, New York, NY

Anybody can Dance

According to Larry Keigwin, dance is everywhere. And as a choreographer and dancer myself, I have to agree. On subway platforms, crowded city streets, in the interaction between wolves in a pack, in the gestures of lovers on the train, the keen and refined eye sees dancing. We all have bodies. Our bodies operate in rhythms: the rhythm of our breath, our heartbeat, the cycles of ageing, the seasons of our lives from birth to death. What makes Larry Keigwin’s work so appealing and accessible is his eagle eyed observations of the human condition. Even before he told the audience about his practice of continual observation, one can see in his work familiar, relatable, gestures that evoke deep emotion and resonate on a very human level.

In “Mattress Suite,” the varied and often manic emotions of premarital relationships are highlighted with humor and poignancy. Fiddling and trying to yank off a ring, air boxing with a side shuffle, obsessively smoothing a dress- all performed with a brilliant command of tension and release by Ashley Browne and Matthew Baker- brought knowing chuckles from the crowd. The piece was emotional, funny, sexy and witty, its athletic, daring choreography masterfully performed. But what made the abstract moments hit home were the detailed gestures of man who keenly observes the world around him. Each gesture was abstract yet concrete enough to be easily recognizable. Mixing pedestrian movements with pure dance, Keigwin weaves a theatrical through line that draws the audience into his field of vision.

Each performance excerpt was followed by a discussion led by ballet legend Damian Woetzel. It was delightful to see Mr. Woetzel in a new way. He was a charming, funny discussion leader who clearly respects and admires Mr. Keigwin and his work. The conversation flowed easily and the two men seemed to be good friends. They had each other and the audience laughing and engaged- standing up for a group 2-step while Tiler Peck, on loan from New York City Ballet, changed into her pointe shoes for the fun, sexy “Rock Steady” set to a medley of Aretha Franklin songs.

My favorite piece of the evening, “Nocturne,” was a direct contrast to the light, flirty, theatrical and more technically conventional “Girls” that preceded it. “Nocturne” was an animalistic, physically grounded exploration of pack mentality and tribal relationships. The movement was earthy and visceral, the stage lit in smoky blue and lavender, evoking dusk on the Great Plains. Using 6 dancers in a variety of floor patterns and groupings- canon, unison, and the kaliedescopic meshing of groups- one or two dancers suddenly flowing seamlessly into the movement phrases of the next group - Keigwin painted a picture of community and the stark need to blend in a herd, to be accepted and move as one.

What made this evening so special was the up close look into the process of this choreographer and the relationships between him and his dancers. The audience was invited into Mr. Keigwin’s rehearsal process; he took two of the techniques he often uses to make dances and put them on stage. In one creative strategy where work definitely looks more like play, Mr.Keigwin would put on a different piece of music for each of his 6 dancers and one by one they would improvise. Not only did we get a sense of the unique voices and styles of each dancer, audiences were treated to a glimpse of what it means to ‘think’ with your body. Mr. Keigwin informed us that he would then use some pieces of these improvisations when creating his dances. Always the observer, Mr. Keigwin would look for relationships and emotions evoked within these improvisations and play with ways of crafting them into cohesive pieces.

The other example he showed us was the mirror game. Using NYCB principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, Keigwin had them stand on stage facing each other. Mr. Fairchild started moving first and Ms. Peck was told to copy his movement exactly- like looking in the mirror. Ms. Peck actually made a mistake and started using the opposite arm, but when she caught herself, Mr.Keigwin decided her way made the movements much more interesting. It was a great example of how working closely with dancers in the studio often leads to ‘happy accidents’ that work themselves into finished pieces. What was so lovely to see was the trust Mr. Keigwin has in his dancers. To work in such a collaborative way, relying on the dancers to create much of the vocabulary of his work, shows that Mr. Keigwin values the aesthetic and kinesthetic impulses and instincts of his dancers. In my opinion, this way of working allows the range of the choreographic output of one choreographer to be much more rich, varied and ultimately interesting.

Dance is definitely everywhere, and I was glad I was in the place where this particular piece of dance was happening tonight.

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