Keigwin + Company Bring Joy to the Joyce

March 16, 2010

Sometimes, watching good choreography can be mentally tiring. Your mind is stimulated, but also working hard to understand all the ideas presented. I imagine that dancing with Keigwin + Company—which presents exuberant, athletic works—would be exhausting, but watching the company is invigorating. Last night the group began it’s debut NYC solo run at the Joyce Theater and brought together a winning combination of impressive choreography and a playful sense of humor.

The program began with a jolt of energy from “Caffeinated.” Holding paper coffee cups, the dancers bounced and shook with vigor. The company was dressed in an array of sportswear—artistic director and choreographer, Larry Keigwin (who also performs with the company) wore a 1980s style sweatband. The piece is filled with perpetual movement, driven by Phillip Glass’s percussion-heavy “Funeral” from Akhnaten. The dancers also smile wildly, as if on a jittery, coffee-fueled high. But Keigwin’s perspective on their mania (and our own) is a careful balance of earnest examination and goofy parody.

Next up was “Mattress Suite,” Keigwin’s collaboration with company member (and frequent muse) Nicole Wolcott. As the title suggests, the six short dances in this series tell a bedroom story, but with unexpected lightness and creativity. The mattress on stage is used to great effect as a trampoline, launching Keigwin, Wolcott and dancers Aaron Carr and Matthew Baker into each others’ arms.

The Joyce run features the world premiere of “Bird Watching,” a piece that compares human behavior to the behavior of birds. In four movements—Flocking, Flapping, Fluttering and Flying—dancers wearing giant sparkling rings and black leotards decorated with glitz and glimmer preen and prance, sometimes as a group (arranged in the familiar migratory “V”), sometimes alone. Set to Haydn’s refined Symphony #6, the dancing becomes increasingly mesmerizing as the movements proceed—just as our social patterns and individual tics gain importance through time spent people watching.

The transition from “Bird Watching”‘s bright, shiny aesthetic to the shadowy world of “Runaway” takes place before the audience’s eyes. Stagehands storm the floor, rolling back strips of marley and tying up curtains to reveal the brick back wall. While they work, a girl wearing a huge, teased-out wig and a mod-inspired neon yellow dress, primps, applying lipstick and checking her image in a mirror. When the stage is set, she’s joined by others wearing matching get-ups and men dressed in suits.

During the piece, the company (and guest dancers, including “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 3’s Kameron Bink) follows paths of light that cross the stage at right angles and illuminate the theater aisles. This angularity is mirrored in their movement, which is often straight-armed and rigid. But they also break these confines: The dancers sometimes appear stripped of some clothing, and they frequently cross the stage in full force sprints that culminate with one dancer jumping on the back of another. “Runaway” has all the energy of “Caffeinated” though with a gloomier mood. But the dancers aren’t surrendering. They fight back furiously while we sit back and cheer them on.