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Keigwin + Company

'Megalopolis', 'Mattress Suite', 'Love Songs', 'Runaway'

by Carmel Morgan

March 3 , 2012-- Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

Keigwin + Company (“K + C”) made their debut at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater in October 2009. Having proved worthy of another invitation, the company returned to the Kennedy Center in March 2012, this time to the larger Eisenhower Theater. Once again the audience warmly embraced this fun and daring New York City-based contemporary dance company.

Keigwin’s gift of humor makes his works accessible and entertaining, and his choreography keeps people’s eyes glued to what’s taking place on the stage. Even though the theater and crowd were large, the dancing drew me into a more intimate, communal atmosphere. Due to the totally enrapt audience and the frequent laughter, I felt like I was in a movie theater when watching K + C. Plus, Keigwin’s dancers are extremely physically attractive and exhibit vibrant personalities, just like movie stars.

“Megalopolis” opened the program, and it captured everyone’s attention. The costumes by Fritz Masten consisted of short and long unitards in combinations of black and glittery silver. Some had quirky shoulder pad-like adornments. The dancers looked like they could be disco speed skaters. Florescent tube lights decorated the stage (original lighting design by Nicole Pearce, adapted by Burke Wilmore). And the music alternated between minimalist composer Steve Reich’s sextet for six marimbas and excerpts from hip-hop inspired artist M.I.A. Got your attention now? The aforementioned things are ones that I would be very afraid of putting together on the same stage at the same time, but not Larry Keigwin. He rejoices in wild surprises. He makes dances that make people smile.

The dancers in “Megalopolis” pumped their fists in the air, propelled forward in wide second position scoots, and jogged in place with their knees alternately turned in and turned out. They paraded jauntily and shook themselves up. It was like watching club kids cavorting, but you could also spot some lyrical, almost balletic moves. The contrasting music and movement styles shocked and unsettled in some very good ways.

Keigwin’s “Mattress Suite” followed “Megalopolis.” While “Megalopolis” introduced a measure of chaos, “Mattress Suite” brought the audience back down to earth. We saw a bride in a long white dress and veil (Ashley Browne on opening night) and her partner, the groom (Aaron Carr), and also a mattress.

The mattress stood on one end, vertically dividing the space between the couple. Italian arias accompanied the pair as they each took a solo turn, first Browne in “Dress,” and then Carr in “Tuxedo.” Here, unlike in “Megalopolis,” you could easily supply a story. The story I supplied was that it was their wedding night, and they each had certain dreams about what their future together would hold. The mattress became a springboard as well as a soft landing spot for their eventually disrobed and nearly naked bodies. I marveled at how the mattress converted into a trampoline, and how Keigwin’s virtuosic choreography sent them rebounding into the air and into and out of each other’s arms.

In a little vignette called “Sunshine” to Bill Withers’ bluesy song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Carr ratcheted up the charm, sadly kissing his own arm after Browne took off in a huff. Seeing Carr sulk was enjoyable. Really, I could watch Carr do anything. He’s handsome, charismatic, and one heck of a dancer.

In a section of “Mattress Suite” called “Three Ways,” a trio of underwear clad men (Carr, Matthew Baker, and Gary Schaufeld) tried to share a bed. Wonderful humor emerged, as did exquisite lifts and acrobatics. The men moved at times as if weightless. They leapt through the air, were caught, and then dove again into the pliant mattress.

“Love Songs,” which came after intermission, was perhaps the most disappointing work on the program, probably because it was the most mainstream. Keigwin showed his signature humor in “Love Songs,” but the choreography veered toward the traditional. “Love Songs” was simple, endearing, and well executed, but I found it a little boring in comparison to the other pieces performed. I admit I missed the mattress!

The dancers hit hard with “Runaway,” the final work of the evening. Keigwin commissioned an original score, “Thirteen,” by Jonathan Melville Pratt, for “Runaway,” and its edgy pulse kept the dancers going. Fritz Masten costumed the women in brightly colored short dresses (orange, yellow, magenta, etc.) and the men in dark suits and skinny ties. However, the outer later of clothing in many cases came off, revealing matching bras and panties in the same bright hues for the women. Men discarded clothing items, too. Off came shirts and ties, or off came pants, or both, leaving some of the males to strut around in their underwear as well. Wigs, by Ashley Hanson, provided addition costuming. Hair was teased high above the heads of the ladies, and it flounced as they flounced. The scenic design and lighting design by Clifton Taylor (lighting design adaptation by Burke Wilmore) brought to mind the hazy backstage area of a fashion show, full of smoke and lights. So visually arresting was “Runaway” that I wanted to be a paparazzi and snap photo after photo.

“Runaway” presented a colony of robotic high fashion models, whose emotions erupted now and then, rippling their stiff and intense demeanors. Dancers briskly marched in straight lines as if they were on a catwalk, and they stared coldly ahead. A few dancers marched right out into the aisles of the theater and back up onto the stage in a circuit. Even when stripped to their underwear, the dancers moved in a manner that conjured images of high heels and constricting garments. Sometimes the dancers’ hips got away from them, jutting forward or back, altering their model alignment. The whole grand spectacle was absolutely gripping. I’m eager for a second viewing one day.

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