THE POPULARITY OF KEIGWIN + COMPANY

Photo of Larry Keigwin’s Bolero / NYC by Andrea Mohin, from NYTimes.

Photo of Keigwin’s Triptych by Matthew Murphy, taken from idanz.

During ballet season my time is so limited and I just can’t attend everything I want to. And so, regrettably, I had to miss Keigwin + Company at the Joyce last week. But my friend, writer Christopher Atamian, agreed to attend for me and write a review here. I’m a big fan of Larry Keigwin, but unfortunately my friend didn’t like the performance very much! Oh well, such is life… Anyway, I’m very thankful and flattered that professional writers want to write for my blog. I do want to make clear, though, the views expressed herein are Mr. Atamian’s and not my own. I’ve seen all of the pieces reviewed here except Triptych, which is new, and I’ve really liked all of them. I also think diversity of opinion and the dialog it can engender is very important to the arts. Here is Mr. Atamian’s review.

Keigwin + Company

at the Joyce Theater

Reviewed by Christopher Atamian

The June 23rd performance of Keigwin + Company at the Joyce was one of the most confounding artistic experiences of late, one which began with a truly world-class piece of dance (Natural Selection) and then devolved into an exacerbating display of crowd-pleasing silliness.

Natural Selection is a smart, well-thought out, fast-paced piece set to Michael Gordon’s entrancing post-minimalist composition “Weather One.”  Like the best art, it transports you into a different world, an exciting parallel universe where dance plays out an entire human drama, an evolutionary give-and-take where the law of the strongest holds sway.  The dancers pull and throw each other around, then support each other, form back arches that others crawl under, one evolutionary step after another (perhaps I am over-interpreting here): Alexander Gish, Ashley Browne, Liz Riga and Nicole Wolcott are superb as they run towards and away from each other, alternating between angel of mercy and ferocious cat of the jungle, all of this performed with a subtlety that makes the dancing even more tantalizing.

Yet even here in this very fine piece, the same trouble that later plagues the rest of the evening briefly pokes through, in parts where the dancers suddenly look as if they were in an aerobics class and not at the Joyce.  Even Keigwin’s otherwise clever use of space falls into the same pattern: on several occasions the dancers run up to the back wall and begin to ascend; others in turn climb onto their backs, a symbol perhaps for the intertwined nature of human existence: even at our most Darwinian, we must help each other to succeed, though we may then turn around and tear each other apart.  But then Keigwin himself grabs hold of the talented Ying Ying Shiau as she runs perpendicular to the wall. The audience gasps, entranced-have they never seen someone run along a wall before? Apparently not…The move seems added on for effect, superfluous: where is she running (away)? Where have the other dancers disappeared?   And can anyone else in the company run along that dang wall?

Love Songs is a set of fine, sometimes funny if flat duets set to Ray Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone.  There’s nothing spectacular about the dances and the miming and facial expressions of some of the performers gets tiring, as if one were at a conservatory senior production and not a professional dance performance-even when the dancers are as charming and have as much chemistry together as do Liz Riga and Julian Barnett, in particular.  Of the next piece, the World Premiere Triptych (set to electronic music by Jonathan Melville Pratt), I can only say that I felt as if I were being made to sit through an extended Devo video from the 1980’s: the strange black (spandex?) outfits, the ostensibly bizarre mimicking of robotic arm movements-whatever Keigwin was going for here eluded me…

Which brings us to the soirée finale, Bolero NYC, a perfectly comic but prosaic piece of choreography.  Render unto Ravel the things that are due Ravel! one wanted to scream half-way through the performance, as  a veritable crowd of people pranced, danced, walked, talked and otherwise strutted across the stage.  Keigwin’s conceit: to get fifty or so “real” New Yorkers (i.e. people off the street) to give admittedly funny pastiches of daily life: a bored Jewish guy in a yarmeluke reading the paper who then parades by in a boa camping it up; a zaftig woman in her forties who is pursued à la Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by a cohort of hot men, including one very tall speedo-clad suitor; a funky break dancer, as well as an assortment of more quotidian and typically New York characters.  As a short piece of mime or even a pastiche of modern life it’s quite fun, but one would simply have hoped for a more nuanced or exhilarating ending.

The audience, it might be noted, already enraptured by Triptych, went positively berserk during Bolero NYC-equaling perhaps the enthusiasm witnessed last November at the performance of another company’s peppy Broadway razzmatazz tribute to the rock band U2. It seems that some dance audiences respond best either to overly cutesy numbers or to anything vaguely resembling a night at A Chorus Line.   Keigwin is not entirely to blame. Apart from Alastair Macaulay in an August 2008 New York Times review, no one has taken him to task for wasting his apparently quite considerable talent on such pieces.  One would like to remind everyone involved (choreographer, dancers, audience members) that contemporary dance is neither the circus nor a Broadway musical (disclaimer: I produce theater-I love musicals).  Some may ask of course which is worse, pretentious post modernism or facile musical numbers that at least have the merit of not taking themselves too seriously? It’s a toss-up, as far as I’m concerned.  Some people may also ask why am I picking on Keigwin? Simple luck of the draw, if you will: his presentation just happened to be the straw that broke this camel’s critical back.  But more importantly as I stated above, I pick on Keigwin because he has so much talent and is selling himself short. Natural Selection is the work of a serious choreographer, but one who falls too easily into the facile and the benign.  Keigwin wants to hear the applause, he wants to wow us and to be loved (who doesn’t?), but that is not the true gauge of an artist. Our best choreographers-Mark Morris, William Forsythe, Tere O’Connor come to mind-achieve their applause because one senses that one has experienced something truly transcendent in their work.  In a word, I am picking on Keigwin because he can do better and because he presumably knows better.

Post Scriptum: On Audiences and Critics

As I sat watching the end of Tuesday night’s performance, I realized that the critic (myself) and the audience surrounding me were deeply at odds as to what they were watching, as well as to the quality of it.  The distinction was not high/low or even an educational or class issue, as might have been the case at a turn-of-the-century Vaudeville presentation or at a contemporary musical where one might expect a critic to perhaps be at odds with a popular consensus.  No, this audience was a mixture of well-heeled upper class aficionados peppered by the requisite young dancers and artists that one might expect at this type of venue. The problem one presumes lay partially in expectations, in one’s understanding (or lack thereof) of contemporary dance as a serious artistic medium.  Perhaps some of the blame lies in the lack of dance education in our schools and in the popularization of a certain type of dance on television shows such as Dancing with The Stars.  (I know, I can hear readers either yawning or screaming as they read this last line!) When all is said and done, I have nothing against fun or popular dance, and Ravel can turn in his grave for all I care, but in this case the audience and the choreographer deserved (just a little) better.

The 10-Word Review: “The first piece was great, the rest was sorta fluff.”

4 Comments

  1. Hey, Tonya! I'm the unknown photographer of the Keigwin pic 😉

  2. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi Matt! Haha, I should have known! I'll change it.

  3. Hey, Tonya! I'm the unknown photographer of the Keigwin pic 😉

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi Matt! Haha, I should have known! I'll change it.

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