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From the dance concert stage to Broadway, choreographer Larry Keigwin is in good company

by Lewis J Whittington
June 19, 2016
Academy of Music
240 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215.893.1999
Along with their dynamic technique, Keigwin + Company is known for their whimsical, witty and often irreverent style. Choreographer Larry Keigwin takes even more unexpected turns when he collaborates with companies as varied as the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and, most recently, Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Keigwin's work "Canvas" was included in the powerhouse line up of company premieres that comprised Pennsylvania Ballet’s 2015 season closing program "Keigwin, Fonte & Forsythe."
Forsythe's "The Second Detail" and Fonte’s "Grace Action" were highly dramatic to "Canvas" giddy and elegant fun that still raised eyebrows.

“My piece was danced in bare feet and in the audience I heard people whispering about behind me about it. So hopefully it was a refreshing change,” said Keigwin on the phone from New York as he was dashing through the streets from the gym to his company’s studio for rehearsals.

“Working with ballet dancers really is an incredible opportunity,” Keigwin said. “Their facility and the potential to mix different styles and to use it in different creative ways are exciting. I’m usually pulling a lot of movement from them and then seeing how I can use it.”

Dancer and critic Gregory King reported he heard a gentleman bluster “what is this? I don’t like it.” In his review King praised Keigwin’s “careful fusing of…classical and contemporary vocabulary.” The program was one of the highlights of the entire season.

Keigwin's choreographic template, and specifically his naturalized approach to concert dance, often laced with wry pedestrian vernacular, is always in development. He is, among other things, a movement documentarian but is always ready to be a showman.

His forays into theater have also paid off. He won praise for his choreography for the 2011 production of the musical Tales of the City at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and that same year, the off-Broadway production of Rent, for which he received the 2011 Joe A. Callaway Award from the Stage Directors & Choreographers Foundation.

He said for him the creative process is much different than “concert dance and ballet where there is no blueprint except the one I’m generating. In theater, it is collaborative and dependent on what the writers are generating. A theater piece with its narrative line, process and emphasis is different. It’s about character and story development. So you have to come in very prepared."

In 2014, while on tour with Keigwin + Company and dancing in some of the programs, Keigwin was shuttling back and forth to Washington DC for the opening of If/Then. The musical starring Idina Menzel, directed by Michael Greif was created by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, the team behind Next to Normal, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. As mixed as the reaction was for If/Then at first, Keigwin’s choreography for was cited as one of its strongest elements.

Before the show opened on Broadway it was still going through wholesale, and sudden, changes. “The challenge with If/Then was that the story was still in development, so everything else was in flux, including the choreography,” Keigwin recalled. “One of the lessons I think is to have creative detachment…to let things go,” he said.

“I had several drafts of songs, and you have to be ready to let go of your material and resketch. So it is always a lesson to keep working. I have to have a lot of choreographic options in my pockets when things aren’t working.”

The choreographer looks forward to more musical work, perhaps a "dancical" project, but for now he is juggling several upcoming commissions with dance companies and creating new work for Keigwin + Company. The company is getting ready to tour and is also creating a new work called “Sunrise” at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, in development with the dancers and Tisch's students that will premiere at Queen’s Theater in Queens, New York.

Also this summer, Keigwin said he has “a partner in crime again to get back on the stage." He will be dancing his own long form duet with company co-founder Nicole Wolcott that in part goes back to their dance roots and original concepts for Keigwin + Company. The two are developing it over the summer for work-in-progress showing this fall and then will present the completed piece at Joe’s Pub in New York next year.

After the Keigwin + Company fundraiser (which promises to be a barnburner) this winter the company will be traveling to Africa. They were one of three American companies chosen by DanceMotion USA, BAM and the US State Department for a five week residency as cultural ambassadors in Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Cote d’Ivoire.

If/Then continues its first national tour with a run at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, June 21-28, 2016.
Larry Keigwin (center)

Larry Keigwin (center)

Photo © & courtesy of KEIGWIN + COMPANY


Larry Keigwin (center)

Larry Keigwin (center)

Photo © & courtesy of KEIGWIN + COMPANY


A scene from 'IF/THEN.'

A scene from "IF/THEN."

Photo © & courtesy of Joan Marcus


A scene from 'IF/THEN.'

A scene from "IF/THEN."

Photo © & courtesy of Joan Marcus

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