Keigwin + Company
by Carmel Morgan
October 22, 2009 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Terrace Theater, Washington, DC
Keigwin + Company made a splash, quite literally, in its DC debut at the Kennedy Center. The company performed “Elements,” an evening length work without an intermission consisting of four distinct sections – “Water,” “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Air.” Larry Keigwin presented choreography that probed wit more than technique. Liz Prince delighted the audience with her costumes, which perfectly captured each of the four elements as the company addressed them. The music, mostly popular and classical pieces, also put smiles on people’s faces. Notably, laughter spread infectiously in the intimate Terrace Theater throughout the performance. Additionally, during short pauses between the sections, the room filled with the kind of happy chatter you hear only when you know the performers have hit a homerun.
“Water,” the first in the sequence of elements, was composed of four subsections – “Shower,” “Sea,” “Spa,” and “Splash.” White towels were tucked around the men’s waists and fitted to the women’s bodies in the form of tiny terrycloth tube dresses. A dancer gleefully showered on stage by pouring a bottle of water directly over his head. The water landed in a puddle of white towels at his feet, which absorbed the dripping water and kept it from soaking the marley floor. Dancers’ hands waved in from of them, calling to mind the rising steam of a hot shower. At times the dancers moved quickly, like spinning droplets. They never appeared shy about their lack of clothing. To the contrary, one dancer pulled up a towel to reveal naked buttocks. The audience roared in appreciation.
A 1950s feeling accompanied “Sea,” in which three males in white robes – Keigwin, Matthew Baker, and Andrew Cook, to the tune of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It,” lifted and twirled Ying-Ying Shiau, who wore a black and white polka dot bikini. “Sea” had all the giddiness and showiness of a beach-themed musical, with Shiau as a sexy Gidget-like starlet. In “Spa,” Baker hammed things up by playing a Carmen Miranda-inspired character. He playfully shook his rear end and spewed a fine mist of water into the air. Finally, in “Splash,” the dancers did almost everything one could imagine with a towel – used them as capes soaring behind them, snapped them at each other, twisted them with toes to wipe the floor, pulled others using a towel as a rope, and little by little dragged a dancer who was standing atop a towel across the stage.
“Fire,” which followed, was sillier and less cohesive than “Water.” The dancers in “Fire” – Ashley Browne, Ryoji Sakamoto, and Nicole Wolcott – wore tight-fitting, flame-colored, whimsical ensembles that were both feathery and sparkly, topped with sporty sequined caps. In this getup they looked like bobsledders from Rio’s Carnival. They also wore what looked like windsocks on their on their hands, which curled in the air like fiery ribbons as their arms flailed and their hands shook. In subsections called “Flicker,” “Simmer,” “Burn,” and “Flame,” the dancers explored different qualities of fire. In “Flicker,” the dancers’ heads comically bobbled forward and back and from side to side, while in “Simmer,” they primped, holding their hands to their faces as if getting ready for a night on the town. In “Burn,” to Pasty’s Cline’s classic country rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” Wolcott captured the sultry heat of the South as she maneuvered to stay in the spotlight. “Flame” brought perhaps the most humor to “Fire.” The rap/hip hop song “Walk it Out” accompanied the trio of Browne, Sasamoto, and Wolcott, who went from lovely leg extensions to thorough zaniness, complete with more head nodding and even a butt grab. Here Sasamoto’s winning antics reigned supreme.
“Earth” presented the dancers as slithering, scaly creatures – a gecko, a chameleon, a dragon, and an iguana. Prince, taking her excellent costuming skills to another level, dressed the dancers in wacky plaids, which added to the endearing quirkiness of the work and also gave the dancers’ bodies texture. Keigwin himself danced “Gecko.” He hunched his shoulders and back, slowly unfurled his fingers, jumped straight up into the air, and jutted out a single arm. Keigwin’s frequent extension of one arm reminded one of the flicking of a gecko’s tongue. “Chameleon” offered peculiar struts with the dancers’ arms held behind them. This movement emphasized their pushed forward chests and chins. In “Dragon,” Liz Riga, wearing a pink plaid number with a grand ruffled collar, slung herself to the floor, paced with irritation, and turned madly in place to the tune “Stormy Weather.” “Iguana” showcased actual tongue flicking as the pop hit “Whip It” played. An energetic quartet (Browne, Keigwin, Wolcott, and Cook) continually popped up and down from the floor.
“Air” was the final section of “Elements.” The company wore flight attendant outfits. The women had bubblegum pink scarves reminiscent of a time when flight attendants were called “stewardesses.” In the first part, “Fly,” the music, Jim Webb’s “Up, Up and Away,” lent a fun, retro feel to the piece. The dancers pointed in all directions and performed the familiar gestures of flight attendants (for example blowing into tubes to inflate a life jacket) with extra pizzazz, while adding a few funny gestures of their own. Next, in “Float,” Shiau, who wore a flowing pink dress, mimicked the moves of a butterfly with help from Cook and Sasamoto. The two men carried her, held her in pretty positions, and swung her above them. With long fabric tied to her wrists, Shiau looked like a Duncan dancer version of Tinkerbell. In “Breeze,” Baker and Keigwin performed a cute, jazzy duet to the song, “Catch a Falling Star.” In the end they pulled out and blew up pink balloons in tandem, only to pop them together, too.
Closing the show was “Wind.” The entire company danced to music titled “Channels and Wind” written by Philip Glass and performed by Glass and Ravi Shankar. In some ways, this is where the dancing really began. Female company members ran and were caught in the arms of a pair of men. There were fabulous leaps, dipping heads, spritely jumps, and upward spins like a top with one arm over the head. Suddenly, the dancers moved in incredible synchronicity with each other. Glass’s music built with the pace of the dancing and fit its rhythms. With arms swinging from front to back, the dancers traversed the stage with uncommon elegance. At the end, pink balloons cascaded down to the stage, bouncing up and down, accentuating the buoyancy of the dancers’ wind-like movement.
Keigwin + Company’s DC debut was indisputably entertaining. The rich humor and enjoyable music and costumes in “Elements” made a pleasant impression. However, overall “Elements,” although great fun, largely failed to show off the depth of the company’s artistic skill and the extent of Keigwin’s choreographic talent. Keigwin’s “Mattress Suite,” which was performed by DC’s CityDance Ensemble the following week at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater shares the same wonderful humor as “Elements,” but it also incorporates more complex and more passionate dancing. While “Elements” is an amusing romp, “Mattress Suite” manages to transcend mere lightness and delve into more serious emotions while simultaneously giving the audience tight, intricate, gripping choreography.