Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dance: Keigwin + Company: Elements at the Joyce

Going to see a piece entitled Elements: Water, Fire, Earth, Air, one has a certain set of expectations. Going to a show put on by Keigwin + Company, one also has a set of expectations. These two sets do not exactly match up. But Larry Keigwin, with his invincible wit, eclectic ear for music, and playful relationship with movement manages to turn the crusty old trope on its head, creating four suites of dances that have the audience giggling for two straight hours.

The first and last suites, Water and Air, are the two more literally translated pieces (in Water, the dancers wear towels, and bathe and drink from bottles of Poland Spring; in Air, they dress as flight attendants and pilots, and dance with silver wheeling suitcases against a backdrop of bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds). These are the crowd-pleasers, and they are, indeed, quite clever and amusing. The real dancing, though, happens during Fire (the weakest of the four) and Earth (an oblique relation to the element, in which the dancers take on the vamping attitudes of lizards in dances called Gecko, Chameleon, Dragon, and Iguana, dancing low to the ground, making faces and flicking their tongues).

Fire fails, mostly, due to its "straight" interpretation; rather than literalize the element in a pun, as he does with Air, or in a product, the way he does with Water, Keigwin dresses his dancers as actual flames for Fire, and the piece, particularly the first dance, Flicker, wanders into the territory of meeting, too easily, our expectations for an interpretation of the elements. It lacks evolution of thought. In Burn, though, dancer (and Associate Artistic Director) Nicole Wolcott does a stunning job "burning" to Patsy Cline; all dancers should be noted for their theatricality throughout, but hers is a face that can make a piece all on its own, even though her dancing is equally powerful. Keigwin makes one brief foray into hip hop as well during Fire, in Flame, (danced brilliantly by Samuel Roberts) to instant rap classic Walk it Out. Having been a hip hop dancer before I ever took a modern class, and noticing that Keigwin started his career as a back-up dancer for Downtown Julie Brown, I must commend him for going there, but I wish he would have gone farther and stayed longer. Further integration between the modern and hip hop moments of the dance would have made it stronger (modern timing works against or apart from the music, while hip hop works right on the beat; dancing modern dance to hip hop music only works if the choreography accords with the beat). I'd like to see him do an entire hip hop show.

While Earth is, by far, the sleeper favorite, I have the least to say about it (except that Dragon, danced by Liz Riga to Stormy Weather, is by far the weakest moment of the entire show, the song and mood of the choreography departing completely from both the earth and lizard themes, Ms. Riga's costume being a pink plaid abomination (when every other costume in the show is pitch-perfect), and the piece being, ultimately, just boring, which Keigwin really never ever is. I imagine that one of his other dancers, the doll-like, flexi-bendy Ying-Ying Shiau, or the emotive Nicole Wolcott, might just maybe make it work, but as performed, the piece drags. Otherwise, Earth is perfect, culminating in a four-person dance to Whip It that is somehow as vitalizing and fresh as that song itself is.

At the end of Air, a kind of encore, called Wind, is danced by the entire company to a stunning Philip Glass piece (Channels and Winds), in which dancers run on and off stage amongst raining pink balloons. This is not the first time I've seen the Philip Glass/balloon combination from Keigwin, but it works, gorgeously, and is the one bit of "serious" (that is, not funny) dance in the show. Earth, I think, will stay with me longer, but Wind is there for those more old-fashioned dance-goers, who expect leaps and jumps and big, free movement. And for that, it beats the hell out of the New York City Ballet.

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