Keigwin + Company
Summerdance Santa Barbara
Center Stage Theater, Santa Barbara
July 16, 2004

Keigwin + Company’s Julian Barnett and Nicole Wolcott

Summerdance Santa Barbara tends to prize wit in its choreographers, and Larry Keigwin is no exception. His company?s west coast debut, held Friday in the first of two shows at the Center Stage Theater, was packed with punchy, unabashedly campy, and precisely drawn character sketches. Yet it was his starker side that revealed the full breadth of his talents in ?Natural Selection,? premiered last month at the American Dance Festival and raw in only the best of ways.

Faun-like and gorgeously proportioned, with precise and powerful legs, Keigwin first visited SDSB in 2000 as associate artistic director of Dendy Dance & Theater. The festival brought him to lead master classes in 2001, and gave him rehearsal time in 2002. Keigwin + Company, his New York-based band of five, is only one year old, though you wouldn?t guess it from the onstage synergy.

Keigwin Kabarets have attracted notice in New York for their sharply structured humor, and most of the works on Friday?s program (several shown in different versions in New York) showed off why. In ?Mattress Suite,? created in part during an SDSB residency, Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott stripped their wedding-day duds and romped on a Sealy Posturepedic to Cecilia Bartoli?s fluttering rendition of Scarlatti, without ever doing the deed. Keigwin escaped to a gay threesome danced to ?La Traviata? in tighty-whities while Wolcott became a self-actualized woman, grinding her hips against the upended bedding as Etta James purred.

Like ?Female Portraits,? the action felt diverting but slight. Ying-Ying Shiau thrashed her Rapunzel-like locks to Cyndi Lauper, Wolcott strutted to Pat Benatar, and Hilary Clark chased the spotlight and lip-synched Bette Midler?s ?The Rose.? Every member of Keigwin?s company can make the subtlest emotional shifts read as clear as subtitles across their faces. They moved through Keigwin?s surprising stacatto phrasings, quick and muscular legwork, and sudden falls to the floor with a chiseled surety. And yet, with the pounding pop music to fall back on, it all looked too easy. It was like watching a Ferrari pause for traffic lights?you wanted Keigwin to hit the open road with his skills and show us what he could really do.

Coming last, ?Natural Selection? revved his gifts to top speed, and the exhilaration in the audience was as palpable as the hollering at a NASCAR rally. Think of it as ?Rite of Spring? in chiffon eveningwear: six dancers driven to mania by the urgent string chords of Michael Gordon?s stunning, somewhat minimalist score. They slugged and crawled across the floor in ever more dizzying arrangements. Sometimes they resembled primitive cave dwellers fighting the elements; in other, even more terrifying, moments, they called to mind rats scratching at the side of a cage.

It?s a long piece, and just when you thought the tension would explode, Gordon?s music ratcheted it further, and Keigwin matched him and then some. Two dancers slammed against the wall as if to copulate, but as two more piled on the situation became more desperate than violent. Just when everyone had huddled, Keigwin ran Shiau up their backs and along the wall, racing her parallel to the floor as the rhythms surged. It was surreal, guttural, and shocking.

Brawny Alexander Gish and fluid Julian Barnett were the two excellent men. The absence of stage wings only added a layer of terror to the piece Friday, as you watched the dancers gasp for breath and rush back into battle. If ?Natural Selection? pitched humanity against an indifferent universe, the open wings pitched Keigwin?s dancers against the work itself. In their chilling defeat, these dancers won.

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