Keigwin & Company Dec 2015

I’m so glad I finally got to see Keigwin & Company perform in December at The Joyce Theater. I had never seen Keigwin’s work before, nor Loni Landon’s despite our recent interview on Pod de Deux podcast, and I found myself enchanted by both. (I saw Program A, which included a guest piece by Landon; Program B included a piece by Adam Barruch instead.) The 4 pieces presented on December 12th each brought a uniquely compelling energy or narrative to the stage.

The show opened with “3 Ballads,” the first of 3 interstitials united by concept and name. In a word, “3 Ballads” was delightful. In another, “heartwarming,” and in another, maybe even “adorable.” But it was delightful, heartwarming and adorable in no overly sentimental way; this piece was a charmingly simple concept with deep roots in reality. Keigwin himself soloed the series, which depicted a middle-aged man dancing around his bedroom to the crooning old love songs of Peggy Lee. My friend sitting next to me might have captured it best when she whispered, “I love his old man socks.” Obviously a well-trained dancer with excellent form, Keigwin’s style of movement nevertheless seemed to almost hang back from the full lithe extension and graceful musicality you would expect from a trained dancer on stage dancing to this romantic and highly melodic music. He seemed to incorporate slight imperfections of style that made the character more believable. While a more predictable match of movement and music might have been more emotionally sating to the viewer at the outset, Keigwin tapped into something much more relatable, lovable and, ultimately, touching: a real person (non-dancer ;) dancing his sweet and hopeful heart out in the privacy of his own home. The end effect was both joyful and a little sad – in a word: poignant.

Loni Landon’s piece, “Wait Nearby,” captured all the angst and drama of life without being angsty. It felt powerful and bold, driven by an energy of its own. At the beginning, a clear theme of motion propelled two dancers as they, in turn, pushed one another down by the head and jabbed at one other with their hands, always ducking out of the way before getting hit. As they were joined by others and the piece escalated into an endlessly evolving power struggle, it was as if all the drama of a lifetime was distilled into this single piece, like a macro view of one person’s – or community’s or world’s – narrative unfolding as a series of ups and downs. In the absence of a specific storyline, I had the sense of observing, in awe and from a bit of a distance, the long view of life; at the same time, the movement brought so much visceral life force to the stage that I felt drawn in and very much connected, on the micro level, to the vigor and turmoil that lives inside all of us at any time. My favorite part was what felt to me like the climax of the piece: the dancers went into slow-motion, effectively heightening the drama, suspense and abstract narrative quality all at once. Finally, I have to express my admiration for the sheer amount of truly stellar material that Loni created in an incredibly short time period (as we discovered in our interview). The piece was a substantial length – and without weak spots of repetitive “filler.” Overall I think it was an impressive representation of her choreographic style  (although I would have to see more of her work to know) and certainly an exciting piece to watch.

The piece before intermission was Keigwin’s “Exit Like an Animal.” For a little while, I found it lively and exciting. The energy the dancers brought to the stage was enough to strike awe into any viewer (not to mention immediate gym guilt). There was all kinds of up and down motion, with leaps that seemed shot out of a cannon and random explosions of gymnastic movement – even the odd back flip out of nowhere. The movement had a primal, animal feel, and the music was intensely percussive. Admittedly, by about three quarters of the way through the piece, I was over it. This could be the simple result of the vicissitudes of my own attention span, but I suspect the piece wore on a little too long in the same key.

After intermission, we were treated to the final serial of “3 Ballads,” followed by “Sidewalk,” a shocking and impressive piece that brought palpable tension to the stage. I have to preface my comments on “Sidewalk” by saying, first, that I am relying on my memory almost a month post viewing and without the notes I normally make for myself during a performance. Second, based on some casual googling, I think my interpretation may be entirely off-base from the choreographic intent. I think it’s important for all of us to become comfortable with being “wrong” in order to have meaningful artistic dialogue and create a robust collective conversation about dance, so I will share my thoughts – but I think the reader will find that they reveal a specific, feminist bias in my viewpoint, and they may very well not represent what the piece is about for the artist or for other viewers. It was a difficult piece to interpret with certainty, but I had some distinct impressions. So here goes.

I say “Sidewalk” was “shocking” partly because I couldn’t have predicted where it was going at the beginning, when three men and three women in slick business attire speed-walked across the stage in a synchronized line, with sideways gait that looked, their emotionless mien notwithstanding, physically uncomfortable. Over the course of the piece (which was quite long), we witnessed what struck me as a somewhat gradual but nonetheless raw and brutal undoing of the women at the hands of the men. Their clothes were viciously, if not always entirely or theatrically, undone. Their bodies were treated like objects open to casual groping and public consumption. The women constantly pushed back, but nothing made the assault come to an end.

The sense of chilling realism was particularly striking. The idea or moral of the piece didn’t seem 100% black and white even within my social-political interpretation; the pacing and layering of the assault, particularly the sexual aspects that sometimes seemed to start as a brief but mutual flirtation, hit strikingly home to the present day in which so many people assume, and we tend to operate as if, sexual and gendered equality has been achieved. Also tellingly, none of the women ever gave up the seemingly singular pursuit of corporate dominance as we watched them run (literally) a demeaning rat race, their drive appearing more programmed than heroic. Thus the piece seemed to represent not the kind of total female oppression that many of us would no longer buy into in our art, in light of our realities, but the gross and ferocious underbelly of the gender-polarized environment in which women still must make a living and in which so many now determinedly strive for the fruits of their own dawning liberation. In other words, I didn’t see the piece as a conventional good vs. evil social issues melodrama but a nuanced look under the hood of workplace (and generally power-driven) relationships between the sexes. All in all, “Sidewalk” had a real emotional impact and will not be soon forgotten. I will also briefly mention that I was almost as shocked by the dancers’ stamina as I was by the hard-hitting emotional resonance; they ran full force around the stage and through the aisles of the theater for much of the piece. I don’t think they ever once stopped moving or slowed down – and this at the end of an already-taxing show! Did I mention exercise guilt?

Interpretation vs intent aside, this performance definitely delivered even more of a physical and spiritual range than I expected, and I can’t wait to see Keigwin’s next.

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Sans Limites Winter Season 2015

Choreographer Diana Pettersen is doing something different in the dance world. Not only does she consistently push new limits and explore new styles with her own choreography, but she takes a proactive approach to creating opportunity for emerging choreographers like herself. Diana stages several performances a year, featuring a wide array of dance makers and companies in addition to her own Sans Limites Dance. The participating choreographers are selected based on the merit of their work and are not asked ante up the kind of application fee that typically represents a frustrating burden to artists in a chronically cash-strapped industry. The latest Sans Limites show at the Connelly Theater was as variegated as ever and even included optional Master Classes with some of the featured choreographers for those interested in getting into the movement themselves.

Diana’s two pieces in this show went in a very conceptual direction. In the first, “How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?,” one person sat at the back of the stage, typing at an imaginary typewriter, while the other dancers, knotted together in a dense bunch, collectively evoked (to my mind) the mechanics of the typewriter itself. Every now and then one of the dancers would break off a bit from the mechanical group with beautiful, graceful movements, like the creativity that flows through writing (on a good day). There was something, I thought, amusing and lighthearted about the piece overall even though it was presented with a serious aspect.

Diana’s second piece, “In My End is My Beginning,” used visceral movement to convey an array of intense emotions. In the first part, one half of the dancers forcibly pushed away the other half who had clung to them (literally) from the start. By the end of the last part, the whole group ganged up on a single dancer in an oppressive, robotic mass and repeatedly clapped their hands over her mouth, staring straight ahead, as she pushed their hands away. This assault lasted several minutes before she broke free and ended the piece with an alarming out-loud scream at the edge of the stage.

Although Diana has explored abstract, minimalistic and other contemporary modes of choreography in the past, these two pieces felt, yet again, like a new and exploratory direction. What will she come up with next? I certainly look forward to finding out.

A few other highlights of the show included “Broland,” “Between the Two” and “Zealot.” “Broland” was a funny and colorful “observation and deconstruction of stereotypical male behavior.” I loved the surprisingly smooth style of the piece, which was not at all what I would have expected from the concept. The funky jungle sound of Barbatuques blended perfectly with a somehow animalistic (at times almost apelike) quality of movement that was yet constantly flowing and graceful. The female dancers portrayed a sort of aimless male machismo with a mocking tone that, in my (albeit female) opinion, never felt too mean-spirited. It was truly delightful, and I’ll definitely be following choreographer Ashley McQueen going forward.

“Between the Two” was a fluid and beautiful lyrical duet. It struck me at some point while I was watching that the female dancer (and choreographer), Jessica Ray, was a good representation of how the ultimate aesthetic of physique comes not from simply having a formulaic willowy ballet body but from solidity of technique, gracefulness and adept usage of the body as an instrument of expression. Her movements flowed so naturally that I found myself truly in awe of her physicality. Her partner, Ricardo Rique-Sanchez, likewise had excellent technique and natural fluidity that served as a beautiful complement. Jessica, too, I hope to see perform again.

“Zealot,” on the other end of the emotional spectrum, was creepy. Choreographer Susie McHugh, one of Sans Limites’ own talented dancers, effectively infused the theater with a sense of fear and dystopian foreboding. There was no storied narrative to the piece yet many specific impressions. Her dancers, dressed in simple colorless shifts, evoked, for me, the idea of some kind of compulsory factory labor enforced through fear. There were definite religious overtones (think Inquisition, not pretty stained glass and hymns) and some sexual undertones that came through, most memorably, in the short-lived paroxysms that would sometimes interrupt the dancers as if involuntarily, revealing a sort of wild desperation, maybe a deep need for freedom from their downtrodden oppression and for control over their own bodies. As always, I’m trying to put words to the deep impressions made by an art form that communicates through movement, not pinpoint exact choreographic intent – so the intent, and interpretations of other audience members, could definitely differ. It would be interesting to discuss with the artists involved and/or with other viewers. All in all, it was a powerful and impressive piece – particularly for a choreographic debut. I hope Susie will find time to choreograph for another show soon, in addition to her dancing.

There were several other choreographers featured in the Sans Limites winter season that I would encourage everyone to check out as well. Find more information about this past show on the Facebook event page, and follow Sans Limites so you can catch their next season.

 

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Running List: Rejected Buzzfeed Submissions of 2014

1. 18 Where-Are-They-Now’s That Will Ruin Your Childhood, Crush Your Tweenhood, Murder Your Extended Adolescence and Sink You Into a Major Depression for Pretty Much the Rest of Your Life

2. 26 Ghostly Halloween Costumes Inspired by the Projected In Memoriam Roster for the 2015 Academy Awards

3. 84 Pranks That Are Guaranteed to Torment Your Coworkers and Fill Your Workday with Elation Like You’ve Never Before Experienced Between the Hours of 9am and 5pm, Unless You Get Caught and Land in HR, in Which Case You Can Refer to My Previously-posted, “15 Hippest Ways to Quit Your Job, You Ungrateful Millennial Brat”

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All Men First Must Live: Reflections on Game of Thrones S4E10

I didn’t expect much of the Game of Thrones Season 4 finale. Sandwiched between an entire episode dedicated to the Wall and nine long upcoming months of radio silence before Season 5, I figured the final episode would treat us to a bland series of character snapshots and perhaps a few cliffhangers that, being nearly a year from satiation and tied to the frustrating ruts in which many characters found themselves stuck by the end of Episode 9, would just leave me grumpy.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once again, the writers of the show (aka Lords of the Universe/Masters of the Craft/Benioff & Weiss) exceeded my best expectations. Not only did they bring us pivotal changes in every one of the primary plot points of the show, but the protagonists tied to those plots matured or solidified in some of the most profound ways we have yet seen. Continue reading

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Cards for My (Unknown) Father

The Hallmark Card:

To My Father on This Special Day:

I can’t tell you how much your undying love, guidance and support has not meant to me over the last 28 years. Every step of the way that you have not been there has brought me the greatest joy. Not growing up with you truly prepared me for a world full of men presumably very much like yourself, whose delicate psyches and various ego-related hang-ups it has never occurred to me to waste my time attempting to soothe with my womanly touch. A world without you is exactly the kind of world I remain perfectly happy to continue to inhabit.

Happy Day!

 

The singing card:  Continue reading

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I (Still) Heart NY: Reflections on the Creative Life in the Big Apple

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the “goodbye New York” essay. Apparently, this well-stocked genre is taking a turn for the cynical as the cost of living in New York City continues to skyrocket. Alarm bells are sounding in the blogosphere and beyond: New York is squeezing out young, creative-minded individuals! New York is becoming an effete playground for the commercial elite.

For my part, I wrote about my move to the city a year after the Fung Wah bus dumped me and two enormous suitcases on a squabbling corner of Chinatown; now, five years later and safely uptown from Canal, I find myself again reflecting on the city that has shaped my early adult life. I’m not ready to write a goodbye essay yet (or, I think, anytime soon), but as someone who still feels creatively fulfilled and challenged here, I am inclined to add my more positive voice to the mix of increasingly hostile adieus. Continue reading

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Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella: Reviewed

In October I went to see the San Francisco Ballet perform Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella at Lincoln Center. The dancing was excellent, the art direction stunning and the vision sweeping.  I left the theater full of the sense of magic that every true fairytale is meant to inspire, and a few specific visuals from the show even rank among the best I’ve seen on stage in my lifetime.  While I was therefore satisfied with the experience overall, I was somewhat disappointed by a few key elements. The awe-inspiring sets and costumes take center stage in this ballet, while the plotline and choreography fall short of Wheeldon’s larger-than-life vision. Continue reading

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