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Keigwin + Company's Unique Take on the "Elements"

by Tonya Plank
July 28, 2008
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
Larry Keigwin's evening-length dance, ELEMENTS: WATER, FIRE, EARTH, AIR, which had its New York premiere on July 28, 2008 at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea, offers, through the choreographer's trademark combination of campy wit, humor, and pathos, a wholly original perspective on a pretty oft-done theme. Each "element" is comprised of three or four sections, so varied in its choreographic style, story, and music that you keep guessing what will come next, always surprised.

The first element, WATER, contains four subparts: "Shower," "Sea," "Spa," and "Splash." "Shower" features a series of dancers – Andy Cook, the hilariously engaging Alexander Gish, Liz Riga, the charming Ying-Ying Shiau, Nicole Wolcott and Keigwin himself – each pouring refreshing water over his or her head while another dancer standing behind holds a towel out in front to shield that dancer's supposedly naked body from our view. Each dancer has his or her unique version of bathing; some shower as if not being watched at all, but Gish winks at the audience as he, supposedly naked, turns away from us and toward the woman holding his towel, making us complicit in his orneriness. The dancers later take the stage together, wrapped tightly in towels, the movement, to Mozart music, beautifully fluid, their bodies like water. With the towels expertly wrapped around them, you wonder if they're actually naked underneath. Just as I decided they must be wearing nude-colored leotards underneath, just in case a towel came unwrapped, Liz Riga, in exiting, flirtatiously let her towel drop a bit to reveal her bare behind.

In "Sea," tiny Ying-Ying Shiau, dressed in a cute polka-dot bikini, is lifted high in the air by three men trying to court her to Cole Porter's "Let's Do It." Eventually, she chooses one man as her mate and the other two cutely end up in each others' arms.

In "Spa," set to Marcela Cortes Galvan's "Que Sera de Mi," the eminently entertaining Alexander Gish is handed bottles of water by a series of women. As he makes various body poses, he drinks in the liquid with a thirsty, lust-covered face, then, thirst quenched, begins to play with the bottles, squirting the water in different directions – around himself, playfully over his head, and in the direction of the audience. The last woman to serve him, the equally colorful Liz Riga, brings him a pair of ladies' high heels, which he promptly dons, relishing his femininity, which is at hilarious odds with his very hirsute chest and legs.

In the final section, "Splash," all dancers re-take the stage and move with wave-like fluidity, again to Mozart.

The two middle elements – FIRE and EARTH, are the least evocative. FIRE begins as a "Flicker" with three dancers dressed in reds and yellows evoking fireflies flittering about to a Handel aria, then turns to "Simmer" as those dancers take front stage and look out at the audience as if looking into a mirror. Eventually one, Nicole Wolcott, takes out a cigarette and begins haughtily smoking, the other two looking on in a bit of shock. In FIRE's third, most captivating section, "Burn," Nicole Wolcott, dancing to "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, with high drama plays a stage actress in turn playing the part of a woman fighting with her lover. As Wolcott by turns struggles to stay in the spotlight (literally, as the spotlight keeps changing location on the stage), feigns accepting an Academy Award, runs about the stage like a madwoman, thrashes about, swirls her arms around and around in endless circles, you begin to wonder whether the actress herself is not a bit "crazy." This element ends as a "Flame" with three dancers standing in a line bopping their heads about then breaking into hip hop to "Walk it Out" by Humphrey, Platt, Roberson, and Simmons.

In EARTH the sections are "Gecko," "Chameleon," "Dragon," and "Iguana." Dancers dressed in very earthy fall-colored tones — deep reds and dark browns, stay close to the ground, deep-kneed and limbs splayed, evoking the animals the subtitles suggest, the music ranging from Debussy to Devo.

The final element, AIR, was, like WATER, full of fluidly, flowingly beautiful movement, a nice complement to that first element, and book-ending the program well. In "Fly," performed by the whole company to Jim Webb's "Up, Up and Away," the dancers pretend to be airline stewards and stewardesses. The audience burst out laughing as it recognized on the dancers the fake, painted-on smiles of the prototypical flight attendant as s/he stands at the front of the narrow aisle preceding take-off, motioning toward emergency exits and indicating how to put on an oxygen mask, as if the possibility of a crash was nothing but a wide-smiling matter. In "Float," the naturally wide-eyed, sweet-faced Ying-Ying Shiau is carried around stage by three male dancers, her face expressing childlike wonderment as she "floats." When they put her down, she tries to float on her own, with her own jumps and feathery waves of the arm. But she is of course unable to do so, and sadness begins to take hold until the male dancers perform their magic and lift her high above the floor. In "Breeze" two male dancers – Gish and Keigwin – have awkward interactions with each other, the one seeming to like the other, the other unsure of his feelings. At the end, the two are handed pink balloons, which they blow up themselves, only to loudly pop them.

And in WIND, the last section (all in capital letters in the program), danced to Philip Glass's "Channels and Winds," the company fills takes the stage, the women running diagonally across it, being caught at the other end by two men who scoop her off her feet, carrying her back across, then all dancers fluttering about the floor making large sweeping movements, eventually amid a plethora of pink balloons, all of which remain intact this time.

Like most of Keigwin's work, the program is by turns funny, clever, highly evocative, and at points lightly mocking but with a general sympathy to the human condition. At only 36 years old, he has a promising future as a choreographer. One hopes as he progresses, he will dig a bit deeper into that human condition, taking on larger, weightier themes.
Keigwin + Company Dancer: Alexander Gish in Elements

Keigwin + Company
Dancer: Alexander Gish in Elements

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Schreiber


Keigwin + Company Dancers: Larry Keigwin, Ying-Ying Shiau and Andy Cook in Elements

Keigwin + Company
Dancers: Larry Keigwin, Ying-Ying Shiau and Andy Cook in Elements

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Schreiber


Keigwin + Company Dancers: Ryoji Sasamoto, Nicole Wolcott and Ashley Browne in Elements

Keigwin + Company
Dancers: Ryoji Sasamoto, Nicole Wolcott and Ashley Browne in Elements

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Schreiber


Keigwin + Company Dancers: Ashely Browne and Nicole Wolcott in Elements

Keigwin + Company
Dancers: Ashely Browne and Nicole Wolcott in Elements

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Schreiber


Keigwin + Company Dancers: Nicole Wolcott, Andy Cook, Ying-Ying Shiau, Liz Riga, Larry Keigwin in Elements

Keigwin + Company
Dancers: Nicole Wolcott, Andy Cook, Ying-Ying Shiau, Liz Riga, Larry Keigwin in Elements

Photo © & courtesy of Steven Schreiber

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