Material world set in motion
By Lisa Traiger
Friday, March 2, 2012
Choreographer Larry Keigwin doesn't shy away from pop-culture trends; he embraces them.
Weaned on early MTV, Keigwin grew up dancing behind his bedroom door to an '80s playlist: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Whitney Houston and the original cast recording of "Cats." As a teenager, he was a backup dancer on "Club MTV," the "Soul Train" of the suburban Ferris Bueller generation.
Today, Keigwin's New York company reflects the pop-culture influences that shaped him and continue to draw his attention. He doesn't make blatant references to, say, Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, but his pieces suggest that he's paying close attention to celebrity, fashion and music trends.
"I like to play with the balance between modern dance and pop culture," he says.
This weekend, Keigwin + Company comes to the Kennedy Center with a collection of sly and provocative works with stylish underpinnings. His street cred on the fashion circuit includes choreographing the leggy models for New York's Fashion Week. His dancers, too, are coltish, young and aggressive. A Keigwin piece looks and feels as if it has been torn out of a glossy magazine.
Among the works, "Mattress Suite" is one of his earliest and has become a signature of sorts. The series of six small solos, duets and trios is performed with tongue firmly and lovingly in cheek: Three dancers maneuver on, around, over and under a queen-size mattress. The music ranges from opera diva Cecilia Bartoli to Etta James and Stevie Wonder.
The program opens and closes with works featuring Keigwin's full company of 12. "Megalopolis" from 2009 features a score by minimalist Steve Reich and contemporary electronica artist M.I.A., and its choreographic structure toggles between architectural formations and heady club dance. The 2008 work "Runaway" showcases chic dancers in cute shifts, staid slacks and "Mad Men" skinny ties. They could be fitter, prettier versions of our office mates until, that is, they strip down to their skivvies. Then we know they're dancing gods and goddesses.
"I take a lot of my cues directly from the dancers," Keigwin says. "As dancers they're human beings living in contemporary culture and so that comes across, but they're also physical acrobats, physical creatures, who study this vocabulary while at the same time they're living in the contemporary world."
Keigwin's dances are smart, funny and exceedingly accessible. "I really treasure the idea of excavating personalities," he says. "I've been a dancer with several companies in the past, and what I treasured most about dancing was being myself and not necessarily an animal, an inanimate object, a tree. . . . In my own work, I'm very interested in the dancers being themselves and acknowledging that everybody has a little bit of humor in them." And a little bit of MJ and Madonna.