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Focus Dance at the Joyce - zoe | juniper (Seattle, WA) and KEIGWIN + COMPANY (New York, NY)

by Robert Abrams
January 3, 2012
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
Focus Dance is a new showcase for American Dance. (The last letters of Focus are US, hence the name.) Eight dance companies from around the US each performed twice during the week.

The night I saw the show, zoe | juniper, from Seattle, WA, and Keigwin + Company, from New York City, performed.

zoe | juniper presented an experimental work, A Crack in Everything, that combined live dance with video projections onto a scrim running across the middle of the stage. I thought that the integration of technology was innovative and well executed. A telling example was the way that, at first, a dancer in front of the scrim appeared to be reflected on the scrim. Later, it became apparent that the reflection was actually a second dancer behind the scrim mirroring the first dancer. It was definitely a cool and intriguing effect. At other times, dancers on stage moved in concert with projected images of dancers. This isn't a completely new technique, but zoe | juniper made it feel fresh.

The work, as noted in the program, included both male and female nudity. The nudity was more discrete than full frontal. It wasn't offensive or shocking, but I also didn't think it added much.

I thought most of the choreography was interesting, and that the dancers by and large had fine technique. The big problem, from my perspective, was that the work was too long. Have you ever seen a sketch on Saturday Night Live that started with a funny idea, but then dragged it out to the point where it was no longer funny? This work was the experimental modern dance version of that. zoe | juniper had a great choreographic idea, but they should have edited down to the best ten minutes. I found out later that what was presented tonight was only an excerpt of a longer work. As I have said before, different people have different senses of time. My own sense of time tends to favor shorter works, possibly because my dance training is mostly in partner dances, where a typical song, and hence a typical dance number, is two to four minutes. The exception for me are works with a well defined superstructure. Others have senses of time that favor longer works. If that describes you, you may like the full version of this work. I would rather watch an episode of The Backyardigans that I have already seen (trust me, it is a demanding standard). On the other hand, even if your sense of time favors shorter works, there was much to like in zoe | juniper's performance, so if you are on the fence, go see zoe | juniper and decide for yourself. They will certainly give you something to talk about, and for a dance critic, that is a good thing.

In Act II, Keigwin + Company presented three works. I was very taken with the first one, Triptych. It was a pure geometrical modern dance with driving energy. I might put it in the same category, and class, as Rioult's Bolero. Since I have loved Rioult's Bolero every time I have seen it, it is no small compliment. I would definitely see this one again. It wasn't short, but it never dragged and knew when to bring a good thing to a close.

The second work, Mattress Suite, made playful use of a mattress, which dancers used to bounce off of into lifts and drops, dance in front of and around. It was appealing, but not gripping. Any one or two sections would have been enough. In addition, one of the sections was danced to a song, "Sunshine": "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers, that, where I come from, would be a clear example of a West Coast Swing (also used in Swango if I am remembering that show correctly). If you are going to dance to West Coast Swing, but use some other style, the dancing had better be extraordinary - this was only very good.

The last work, Runaway, included day-glo outfits for the women, with very big hair, suits for the men, with no shoes, and a driving dance that included brisk walking across the whole stage. It was fine, but I liked the first work more. The big hair was amusing, but it might not have been necessary. To be fair, I suspect that I might have liked it more if it had been presented at the beginning of the show or act. I was tired at the end of a long day by the point that this work was shown. A dance does not exist independent of the observer, and one's mood or physical state can affect one's perceptions. I feel that a dance critic should be aware of his or her subjectivities, which is why I mention it. I liked the work enough that I would give it a second look.

Focus Dance fulfilled its mission of promoting dance from around the US. The works were worth seeing, even when I disliked portions of them. I would see more programs like this. I would definitely see a program that included both the Keigwin + Company's Triptych and Rioult's Bolero.
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