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Jessica Abrams
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Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Northridge, CA

With Bernstein Program Keigwin + Company Dances the Line between Art and Entertainment

by Jessica Abrams
February 5, 2018
Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330
(818) 677-3000
The music of Leonard Bernstein calls to mind various states of deep emotion. Be it Maria’s longing for Tony in WEST SIDE STORY, three sailors’ desire to forget their lives for twenty-four hours in ON THE TOWN, or Terry Mallory’s torment over testifying or remaining in good standing with the powers-that-be, his music, like all music, creates an emotional river on which the boats of various allegories float. But what separates Bernstein’s music from any music is the prominent place it holds in the canon of American storytelling. The struggles of these characters define the American experience, an experience into which just one note can transport us.

Such was the case on Saturday, February 3 with Keigwin + Company’s performance at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya)- formerly the Valley Performing Arts Center. The evening, entitled “Keigwin + Company Celebrates Bernstein” was just that: a celebration of key scores from ON THE TOWN and ON THE WATERFRONT as well as Bernstein's lesser-known pieces, all of which managed to create an emotional charge as a result of the music itself and the stories it calls to mind.

Not unlike Leonard Bernstein, Larry Keigwin, the company’s founder and artistic director, has straddled the worlds of concert dance, Broadway, movies, and special events. Since the company’s founding in 2003, Keigwin has set dances on major companies as well as choreographed a pre-eminent night of fashion produced by VOGUE Magazine.

This ability to work in two distinctly different worlds was evident in all his pieces on Saturday night. In “Episodes” (2012) all six dancers in the company engaged in an innocent romp that could be considered a mix of WEST SIDE STORY and Trisha Brown. Three couples evoked a sense of nostalgia for a more innocent time: the women, clad in flouncy skirts, flirted coyly as the men playfully wooed. Signature gestures – angular arms forming geometric shapes (which could be seen throughout the evening) would, from one minute to the next, give way to a looser, more classical port de bras; and it was this balancing act and others that gave the pieces their dramatic tension. At one point in “Episodes” two dancers, a male and a female, engaged in a quick ballroom romp. Often, the dancers moved apart, faced front and broke out into showstopping movement that was both visually exciting and highlighting of each dancer’s genuine technique. But then the quirkiness of a signature gesture managed to bring us back and remind us that we were, in fact, watching concert dance.

In “Sonata”, a world premiere, a clarinet and piano on stage emphasized the role of the music as co-star in the experience. Two dancers, Brandon Coleman and Emily Schoen, essentially danced a marriage to music that created a sense of love and longing in a piece that touched deeply on various aspects of an intimate relationship. A signature gesture here – such as Coleman’s arms protecting and shielding his face – spoke volumes; and once again, circular, organic movement was juxtaposed with more self-conscious, angular shapes. The piece was at once intimate and playful, mournful and heart-wrenching – once again, dancing the line between these experiences while not shying away from deeply exploring them.

“Three Plus One”, also a world premiere, moved back into a more flirty tone. A signature head toss – more of a wiggle, actually – prevented the piece from being too self-conscious. More weight-bearing movement also made for a levity that allowed gravity into the mix. “Waterfront” provided a nice bridge between the two, at times evoking a humorous tone as a leg extended seemingly out of nowhere to cut the more serious nature of the music (and the movie to which it provided a score).

Not mere technicians, the dancers brought solid acting to the work – like, for instance, Zackery Betty’s flirtatious facial expressions in “Three Plus One”. As a result, the pieces succeeded in exploring relationships as much as providing sheer entertainment.

This dance, as it were, between entertainment and art, between the dancers’ relationships to one another and their engagement with the audience and, last but not least, the dynamic relationship between this brilliant composer and a choreographer who managed to highlight his work while adding his own terpsichorean interpretation, made this a dazzling and heartfelt evening.
Keigwin + Company

Keigwin + Company

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano

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