Keigwin & Company

MASS MoCA and Jacobs Pillow Collaboration

By: - Apr 13, 2015


Keigwin & Company
Artist Director Larry Keigwin
Executive Director Andrea Lodico Welshons
Stage Manager Randi Rivera
Dancers: Kacie Boblitt, Ashley Browne, Brandon Cournay, Benjamin Freedman, Kile Hotchkiss, Jaclyn Walsh
April 11 and 12

Contact Sport (2012)
Waterfront (2014)
Panic (World Premiere)
Triptych (2009)

Since it was established in 2010 The Irene Hunter Fund for Dance sponsors an annual co production of Jacob's Pillow Dance and MASS MoCA. In general that has entailed provocative but less familiar companies. It fits the mandate of the museum to encourage and present new work.

With four works, the third a world premiere by choreographer and artistic director Larry Keigwin, we got a sense of the range of his work with a stripped down but tight as a drum company of just six dancers.

In addition to works for his own, which was founded in 2003, he creates for a number of other companies. Encouraging the next generation Keigwin plans to split an evening between his own work and a couple of emerging choreographers.

He is currently working on a commission for Paul Taylor. I had the pleasure of enjoying his choreography for the Broadway musical If/ Then starring Idina Menzel. He and the dancers all do other things.

One or two songs into the zesty, playful "Contact Sport," without consulting the program, I tried to identity the singer combining English and French. It was not her most familiar material but I muttered to myself, good grief, it's Eartha Kitt!

She was one of those now dated period figures from the 1950s, pushing a sex kitten persona, more notable for an artificial style, tremor or purr to the voice in a vampish manner, than sustaining substance. The lyrics were always satirical, topical and cute.

There was a career meltdown when she sassed as a guest during a luncheon at the White House. At the time it was considered outrageous. Courageously, she was bringing attention to issues which, if you follow the news, haven't gone away.

The peppy, upbeat, whimsical, overly accessible dance was just like Kitt. Which is to say light, artsy, anachronistic and yesterday's newspaper or gossip magazine. Three male dancers and one "girl" were dressed in scholastic costumes that made me think of the madcap Angus Young in AC/DC. But with less voltage.

They danced before, in, and through a spangled ribbon curtain. There were variations on exits, partnering or not with the girl, flipping her about like a cheer leader.

There is a heavy curtain in the Hunter Center but it was not closed while the stage crew lowered and removed the glitter curtain. The audience didn't quite understand whether it was a piece with a single dancer either performing or simply warming up.

It was a theatrical interval but not quite like "The Knee Plays" of Robert Wilson. Which were performed in front of the curtain actually.

There was a later interval in the program. With a bare stage we heard a woman singing. At the end of which some audience members applauded. What was that about? Perhaps it was a dance equivalent of sorbet between courses.

Elements of conflict, eroticism, and the tension of relationships forming and disbanding were set to the score by Leonard Bernstein "On the Waterfront Suite." The full company of three men and three women performed. But this did not equate to heterosexual pairings. There were many elements of seduction in every possible variation. In some sequences a woman kept being paired and then seduced away by two competing men who were also sexually interested in each other.

At times they formed a pas de trois or in more erotic terms a threesome. A Berkshire audience was hip enough to catch the drift. If you surrendered to the moment all aspects of seduction were equally enticing.

Except perhaps when it evolved to strife with the dancers agressively pushing and shoving each other. In Bernstein's score, arguably, music to bash heads with.

After an intermission the second half of the program was more challenging.

It started with the galvanic and emotionally charged solo "Panic." On Sunday when we attended it was only the second time it was performed by Keigwin returning to the stage after an interval of three years.

The broad stage with lighting design by Nicole Pearce was narrowed to a rectangle confining the dancer to movements back and forth to the front and back of the stage. Dressed in his underwear these movements were somewhat awkward intentionally. Shall we say brilliantly.

There was a disconnect between what struck me as serio-comic in the manner of Chaplin and Keaton not making sense when set to the "serious" music of Gioachino Rossin & Andrea Leone Tottola.

We are familiar with dancers setting contemporary variations to classical music. Frankly, I've had Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven up the wazzoooo. But this seemed to be a spoof or parody of that. Or was it I asked during the Q&A.

I also wanted to know about some of the loaded gestures. One entailed pointing a finger to his head as if committing suicide. Another was staccato finger tapping on the stage while seated in his smalls. At the end of which he rather awkwardly and quickly put on exercise pants and a sweat shirt. He seemed to be racing the clock putting on shoes and tying the laces.

Not that it works. Yet.

It was a relief hearing him explain that it's a work in progress and that he was really interested in the feedback of the audience. It had already changed from the night before. Putting on clothes amusingly is happening because he doesn't quite know with to do with the boring end of the music which may change. At this point he has to try something.

Now in his 40s he had lost interest in being on stage with a company almost half his age. Then there was an injury. Blessedly, the first after a career of some 20 years.

Every dancer/ choreographer comes to that moment. Unfortunately, it's an art form with a lifespan like that of top athletes.

As the late Robert Hughes might say about the final piece, "Triptych," with original music by Jonathan Melville Pratt, in its stark, stylized, robo "Metropolis" modernism evokes "The Shock of the New."

The inventive, dehumanizing costumes by Karen Young channeled the techno pop digital beat. There was in fact a lot of variety particularly in the use of the entire body. Much of the visual impact came from fully extended arm movements. There were a lot of long, angular line looks.

One responded to the dance as a form of post supermatist abstraction. There was a 1930s feeling which led a friend to suggest neo fascism. There was certainly post utopianism but that's as far as I want to go. Yet again enjoying and understanding are separate issues.

My friend didn't understand which equated into not appreciating. Susan Sontag discussed Against Interpretation. The pleasure isn't always consensual. Art isn't necessarily presented on our terms. It's not my job to explain this to you.

Like solving a puzzle, in this case I was clueless. Keigwin commented in the talk back that "Triptych" had been inspired by seeing a lot of tall building construction in New York. He became interested in stark design and architecture. The arm movements referenced the passage of time as the tick tocking hands of a clock.

Hey. Who knew.

This is a company I would enjoy seeing again. Apparently there are relatively few such opportunities. Unless you are in Bilbao in July or the Joyce Theatre this coming December.