By Tara Mitton Catao
Six dancers, one choreographer and one very small stage — it is a lot like being under a microscope and it is all very intimate.
One can’t get away with much. Every detail counts. Every transition and theatrical expression (or lack of) registers. Therefore, performing in a small theater is not a casual thing. So when a New York-based modern dance company with a certain amount of cachet comes to perform, there are certain expectations.
Keigwin + Company performed this weekend at the Rinker Playhouse, presenting a program that spanned the 10 years that Artistic Director Larry Keigwin has been choreographing. Keigwin is involved in a myriad of projects that run the gamut from Broadway (he choreographed Rent) to a Vogue magazine fashion show that featured 150 top models. He recently won acclaim for his large-scale Bolero, a community project that has been commissioned to be done all across the country. He runs his own cabaret, is co-founder of a multi-disciplinary festival in Colorado, and regularly sets new works on other dance companies. He is a busy man.
The performance by his company Saturday night was decidedly a mixed bag. The lackluster first piece was Trio (2011), which was Keigwin’s newest work on the program, and though it had enjoyable movement, it seemed generic, with its simple and endless canons. With just three dancers on the small stage, it came across larger than life but not engaging. There was an unevenness in the intent of the performers and their direction.
One of Keigwin’s most popular works followed. It was composed of six individual pieces that were created from 2001-2004 to musical selections that stretched from Stevie Wonder to Giuseppe Verdi to other well-known Italian songs. These unrelated pieces were all presented under the title Mattress Suite.
There was a bride (Ashley Browne), a groom, a threesome with homosexual overtones and, of course, a mattress. When horizontal, the mattress was a place of intimacy and when vertical, it divided like a wall and, when it was used as a basic prop to bounce on and off, it had great appeal. However, it all seemed a little half-baked, with the exception of the man’s solo, in which Matthew Baker gave the commitment to the work that it needed in order for it to take off. Baker showed rich nuances in his movement quality and a committed theatricality. The male trio danced by Baker, Derek Ege and Kile Hotchkiss also had a strength and completeness.
Love Songs (2006) continued the theme of relationships with another six songs (all extremely familiar) by three artists (all extremely famous). It was danced by three couples that each portrayed an archetypal kind of relationship — flirtatious, dependent and combative. This all set up a certain predictability. Since we knew the lyrics of the songs, we knew the message.
What happens, then, when the choreography follows that same direction? It flattens it. Even though Love Songs was well danced, there was an undeniable one-dimensionality in its easy appeal. An uneven theatricality in the dancers’ relationship to each other and whether to relate to the audience was also evident. However, two duets danced by Jaclyn Walsh and Matthew Baker stood out from the others for their concise and connected interaction.
In contrast to the previous works, which had a kind of mainstream air about them, the final selection, Triptych (2009), was a distinct change and a welcome one. The six performers danced tightly in sync and were fully energized as they maneuvered on the small stage of the Rinker Theater with command and skill, making it seem twice the size.
Driven by the pulsing music of Jonathan Melville Pratt, Keigwin’s choreography had a much more distinctive and inventive movement vocabulary, and together with the stark but hazy lighting and stylized black bathing trunks, a completely new visual was presented. As the dancers swatted and batted their arms in stiff and robotic gestures, their legs carried them in an assortment of quirky walking movements that demonstrated Keigwin’s considerable skill in crafting choreography for larger ensembles.
Commandeering the stage like an army of ants, marching in orderly fashion and carrying out an endless list of tasks with a somewhat disoriented intent, the dancers seemed to be a type of hybrid alien as they, at various times amid the fray, collected to do a strange arm salute. The fierce and driving energy of this work uplifted the program.