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Jack Anderson

Larry Keigwin: City Choreographer

"Runaway" by Larry Keigwin -- Ryoji Sasamoto, Charlotte Bydwell, Aaron Carr, Ashley Browne, Gary Schaufeld. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Keigwin + Company
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
March 16-21, 2010
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
$10-$49 Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, March 19, 2010

Larry Keigwin is a native New Yorker. You could guess that. His dances reflect city rhythms. But not just any old city. These works have the constant bustle of a city fueled by nervous energy. A city like New York, for instance.

It's hard to imagine Keigwin sighing over rustling leaves and babbling brooks, although anything is possible, given his choreographic curiosity. Even so, I was slightly taken aback to find that his newest dance was titled "Bird Watching," and that its sections were called "Flocking," "Flapping," Fluttering," and "Flying." I couldn't quite fancy him either cutely imitating avian antics or depicting earnest folk in sweaters tromping through the woods with binoculars and notebooks. Instead, Keigwin gives us some odd birds.

"Bird Watching" is presumably not even set outdoors, for the stage is dominated by a large chandelier, has an unsoiled white floorcloth (no icky mud or rough tree bark here), and the recorded accompaniment is Haydn's elegant Symphony No. 6. Fritz Masten has designed chic black and glitter-adorned costumes for Matthew Baker, Ashley Brown, Aaron Carr, Kristina Hanna, and Liz Riga, and although this flock does flap and flutter, with much hopping and preening, I have a hunch that these creatures aren't supposed to be real birds at all. They could be guests at a fancy costume ball: ostentatious and not especially nice guests, for when they raise their hands to their faces, their shiny rings make their fingers look disconcertingly like claws or talons. "Bird Watching" could easily be renamed "People Watching."

"Runaway" (2008), to music by Jonathan Melville Pratt, invites us to watch 16 people (Keigwin's own company plus guest dancers) in constant motion, going back and forth across the stage and up and down the theater aisles. Speeds sometimes vary, but tensions remain constant. The men's dark suits, the women's ostentatious hair styles, and everyone's determined and sometimes aggressive attitudes suggest that these are people who want to "get somewhere": not necessarily some specific locale, but someplace high in the pecking order of the business world. As they come and go, they occasionally shed articles of clothing, making you wonder what they may have done to make them lose their shirts.

Although "Runaway" and "Bird Watching" are ruthless, Keigwin can also observe New Yorkers' quirks and foibles in a more tolerant manner that recalls the city poems of Frank O'Hara, another confirmed New Yorker. "Mattress Suite" gives us six little dances Keigwin created between 2001 and 2004, some in collaboration with Nicole Wolcott. The accompanying collage includes florid Italian arias sung by Cecilia Bartoli; but we also get Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine." Keigwin and Wolcott provide amused glimpses of the ins and outs of love affairs, usually on or near a mattress. Keigwin and Wolcott flop down and get entangled on it in "Straight Duet," yet she eventually walks off. Keigwin, Carr, and Baker clutch one another in a gay threesome in "Three Ways," yet this arrangement (at least for these three guys) also seems unsatisfactory. No matter, Keigwin implies: you can never predict the ways of Eros, and new mattresses always await you.

Keigwin sets people on the go clutching coffee cups, in "Caffeinated" (2007). As music from Philip Glass's "Akhnaten" pounds away, these pedestrians move with perpetual jitters in jerky patterns. People say New York is a city that never sleeps. I bet these characters don't, either. They're surely New Yorkers wired on caffeine, and Keigwin makes them fun to watch.

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