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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