Keigwin + Company: A city’s worth of energy in Reynolds Theater as ADF continues

A Keigwin + Company dancer, gorgeously kinetic. Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of ADF.

Larry Keigwin could probably power an entire city with the energy generated and released during his dances, five of which comprise the program for Keigwin + Company’s three-night run in Reynolds Theater as the American Dance Festival continues. For Tuesday’s opener, the theater was well-filled with ADF students, whose enthusiasm gave energy for energy, and raised the already high sound level. Keigwin has a penchant for loud music with a driving beat; occasionally the thought occurs that it could drive one right out of the theater.

The program opens with 12 Chairs, from 2012. Its dozen dancers, working with folding chairs, display clearly Keigwin’s continuing interest in patterned repetition, as does the music, Flexus, by Jonathan Melville Pratt. The dancers, with magnificent physiques and skills to match, wear casual work-out clothes, mostly drab, with the exception of three bright red clothing items. The red bits highlight the shifting patterns and alliances in a very interesting way. Although this is not a musical chairs game, where one player will be left out at the end, still it embodies much competition. I found its combination of aggression and ennui distasteful, and did not see anything really fresh in the choreography. At this point, I’ve seen quite a few pieces in which the dancers hop up on folding chairs, proving their aim, balance and confidence in their own invincibility.

Trio (2011) powers on with more relentless beats and repeating phrases (No. 6 for Piano, Marimba, Cello, Violin, by Adam Crystal), and with fewer dancers and much more uncluttered space, both their grace and Keigwin’s concerns are clearer. Trio depends on one of Keigwin’s tropes I find particularly irritating—whiplash fast reversals. Seldom does he allow a long flowing sequence in one direction. Still, he does build segments out of these self-mirroring bits, and these sometimes repeat in reverse, which is much more intriguing. There is a great deal of walking or running circles, but there is also some great dancing in Trio: beautiful, daring weight transfers as energy flow is reversed; some very fine spins and lifts. Oddly, although the two men were near her size and she was clearly equal to the task, never did the female dancer lift either of the males on Tuesday night.

Natural Selection, which the ADF commissioned in 2004, is set to yet more driving music, Weather One, by Michael Gordon. Long-time festival-goers may remember this work: it was the subject of an adulatory feature by former News & Observer dance critic Linda Belans, before in premiered in Reynolds in 2004. She was very taken by Keigwin’s use of the back wall: he deepens the stage space by removing all the back drops, and allows for movement up the wall in a novel way. But before we see that, we get a parade of arm-swinging Neanderthals, and a great deal of aggressive, even angry, chasing, grabbing, throwing (many bodies hit the floor), flinging and dragging, set to music raging hard and fast, loud and louder. Eventually, the dancers form and travel through a tunnel of time extending across the downstage floor. She who successfully evolves walks upright, if sideways, across the back wall after climbing over all her companions.

A new work commissioned by the ADF this year opens the program’s second half. Contact Sport features four male dancers in white shirts, ties, and snug gray pants or shorts. I thought they were prep school boys, but they are meant to be brothers. The quick-reversing patterns continue, along a theme-line of adolescent physical gags and rough-housing, but the music is a surprise—a medley of wonderful old songs, sung by Eartha Kitt in her wise old voice. The pairing of that experienced voice and the youth of the characters is delicious.

As you may have gathered, Keigwin is not my favorite choreographer. He irritates me, so I’m always looking for a nice big pearl as the pay-off. The night’s final offering paid up. First of all, Megalopolis (2009) is set to music that doesn’t beat you up: Steve Reich’s Sextet—Six Marimbas, along with excerpts from MIA’s World Town and XR2. Reich’s music is of course made of repeating patterns, but it doesn’t turn on itself, instead going on in long marches toward infinity. The dance in Megalopolis does the same, and without the jitter and fracture, gorgeousness appears. The dozen dancers are clothed here in outrageous black or silver bodysuits (by Fritz Masten) sparkling with swathes of crystals. Some have insect wing-like additions on the shoulders, some have thick stripes of sparkle down their backs or across their chests. As the sleek creatures criss-cross the stage, vamping and waving their antennae, you may giggle with delight.

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