American Dance Festival

June 10, 2004

American Dance Festival: Keigwin + Company, Russian Festival, Grupo Krapp, and International Choreographers Commissioning Program
Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

June 10–July 24, 2004

Reviewed by Byron Woods


Is Keigwin + Company really ready for prime time? After his extended service with Mark Dendy, Larry Keigwin began 2003 with a new group that has since performed to enthusiastic critics and audiences at venues including New York’s Joyce SoHo and Thalia Theater. But works created for such intimate rooms did not always transfer successfully to the 600-seat Reynolds Industries Theater, the smaller of the American Dance Festival’s two main stages, in Keigwin + Company’s June 22 performance. Potentially more disappointing, the conciseness associated with his shorter pieces seemed largely absent in his long-form commission, Natural Selection.

In Keigwin’s “Female Portrait #4,” dancer Ying-Ying Shiau staged a post-breakup adolescent temper tantrum to Cyndi Lauper’s “Change of Heart.” Keigwin developed a situation more than a character, at the expense of choreographic achievement, and the work seemed dwarfed on this stage. In contrast, Nicole Wolcott’s clearly defined character in the similarly scaled “Female Portrait #1” danced a confident, sensuous manifesto to Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Hilary Clark’s melodramatic burlesque of Bette Midler’s “The Rose” ventured on the grotesque in “Female Portrait #5.”

Opening the evening was Keigwin’s Mattress Suite, a collection of seven miniatures (including 2001’s “Sunshine” and 2003’s “Straight Duet”), placed on or around a queen-size bed that formed a wall, trampoline, stage, and elevated platform at varying times during the work. In “Three Ways,” Julian Barnett, Alexander Gish, and Keigwin amusingly demonstrated just how quickly and in how many ways a ménage à trois can devolve into odd man out.

Perhaps it’s the martial tenor of the times, but Natural Selection, the closing world premiere, seemed like an invisible military obstacle course. Pursuit started early in this twenty-two-minute chase scene for six dancers; after individuals stalked partners, the dyads that ultimately resulted struggled to keep up with composer Michael Gordon’s relentless pace. But the point of this ten-mile forced-run-and-crawl over floors, walls, and other performers was exhausted well before Keigwin’s redundant solo at the end.

Similar disappointments accompanied the world premiere of Sasha Pepelyaev’s Mixed Doubles for his dance company, Kinetic (not to be confused with New York-based Kinetic Dance Theater), in ADF’s “Russian Festival” on July 8. Though the program promised a sextet of sharply defined characters who encounter one another by chance while playing different games in different performances, the forty-four-minute filibuster was plagued by repetitive moves, muddy situations, and characters never sufficiently differentiated by costumes or choreography.

In a rare moment of clarity, an enigmatic character performed by Olga Pona (who substituted for an ailing Daria Buzovkina) challenged the others to shed their social disguises and their clothes. In response, the troupe buried her under garments and returned to the indistinct games in progress.

Expensive-looking video projections suggested Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animation after a digital upgrade. Combined with dramatic color fields and set to sampled Prokofiev, these failed to clarify things any more than the elementary stage magic the choreographer resorted to at points. The final result: a work less coherent than Fog Dwellers, Pepelyaev’s unfortunate work for ADF’s 2002 International Choreographers Commissioning Program.

In welcome contrast, Argentina’s Grupo Krapp effectively ridiculed the misogyny in Latin culture in Mendiolaza, an evening-length work. The company honored its Beckettian namesake in a compelling dance-theater work about the slowest weekend night on record in the title’s location, a Venezuelan mountain town.

At its start, a small-town femme fatale and riot girl converged on a dingy music hall along with local tributes to the greaser, the ladies’ man, the emcee, and a nerd or two. All appeared in desperate need of entertainment and companionship.

Needless to say, none would be successful in their quests. The high-velocity wrestling-match substituting for foreplay depicted violence directed at women, before giving dancers and co-choreographers Agustina Sario and Luciana Acuña the upper hand. Then, suddenly acting as host, co-choreographer Luis Biasotto took a microphone and introduced the audience to the men’s meager sexual ambitions in Spanish.

After various unsuccessful forays, two losers doomed to end the evening in beery recriminations wept openly about a former love, as musicians Fernando Tur and Gabriel Almendros murdered George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” In this funny dead-end night, Grupo Krapp torpedoed the culture of machismo with laughs—by demonstrating its absurdity.

In the International Choreographers Commissioning Program, Japan’s Toru Shimazaki offered the strongest work, Red. On Joseph Benjamin’s compelling set of red and black, three men enacted broad, sweeping moves suggesting drastically accelerated tai chi. Jian Dai’s convincing solo prefaced duets in which Glen Meynardie sculpted, channeled, and then blocked the liquid movements of Molly Mae MacGregor, and Denesa Chan, with Matthew Beals, enacted tableaux reminiscent of Rodin’s Paolo and Francesca.

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