Larry Keigwin is a little bit busy.
One minute he's choreographing a new off-Broadway revival of Rent. The next, he's putting together the Vogue-sponsored opening show for New York's Fashion Week, featuring more than 150 models. The next, he's finishing a commission from the Guggenheim Museum. (It premiered three weeks ago.)
In 2012 he'll create a piece for the Royal Ballet of New Zealand and bring his company to the prestigious Joyce Theater in New York City. Twice.
Does anyone really get to be that lucky? To do that much exciting work? What gives?
"I always say that art is an extension of one's personality or of the group that makes it," he said. By that definition, his extraordinarily wide-ranging output makes sense.
Keigwin, a native New Yorker, is enthusiastic and eclectic, with a curious mind and a collaborative spirit, ready to take inspiration from wherever it comes. His own dance career took him from Downtown Julie Brown's Club MTV, where he was a backup dancer, to Hofstra University where he earned a BFA in dance, to working with modern dance icons like Mark Dendy and performing with the Metropolitan Opera in productions by the likes of Julie Taymor (of The Lion King fame).
He founded KEIGWIN+COMPANY in 2003, and shortly thereafter started an ongoing project called the "Keigwin Kabaret," a site-specific vaudeville/burlesque/modern dance performance piece that has taken place at various locations around New York City over the past nine years.
"To me, dance is dance," he said. "I like to see passion. I like the combination of techniques and personality. I like to see a dancer who is incredibly confident and at home on stage. I mostly like to see an artist communicate. I like to be entertained and I like it to strike an emotional chord. Of course, I always like a surprise."
The four pieces KEIGWIN+COMPANY will bring to the PAC in its Oklahoma debut this weekend perfectly demonstrate that philosophy.
The New York Times called Megalopolis (2009) "a divinely well-structured encounter between formalism and club culture set to [music by] Steve Reich and the singer M.I.A. It reveals his deeply American affinity for space and exuberant athleticism, marvelously complicated by a camp sensibility that suggests a fluid, unapologetic spectrum of sexuality."
Love Songs (2006) comprises six dances by three couples, with a soundtrack by Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone.
Bird Watching (2010), set to Haydn's Symphony No. 6, features five dancers in jeweled rings and striking black-and-white costumes. Critic Laura Jacobs lauded it as "a surprisingly delicate yet glittering metaphor -- a meditation on spring plumage, flock dynamics, and beauty."
The final piece on the program, Runaway (2008), a commission from the Juilliard School with an original score by Jonathan Melville Pratt, was a smash hit when it appeared at the Joyce last year. The New Criterion summed it up this way: "Runway models, Fellini divas, corporate boards, Blade Runner futurism, sexbots, celebrity, the big city lit up -- talk about brilliant energies!"
Keigwin thrives on a variety of influences, so much so that his choreographic method is unusually open to collaboration.
"I really do enjoy the collaborative process," he said. "It allows the performers to have a sense of ownership. I think it creates a playful climate in the studio. I like the variety of vocabulary that the dancers bring to the process. I enjoy the conversation with designers. Working collaboratively allows for the great unknown and for surprises."
"I sometimes see the process as collecting and editing," he continued. "Like putting a collage together. I'll collect ideas, images, dance moves, music, and then edit. During the creative process, I think it's important to approach each day and each rehearsal like the first. I think it's important to ask, 'What if?'"
This process results in dances that are accessible -- "the dancers have their finger on the pulse," Keigwin said -- and also highly structured, deeply theatrical, and often focused around a narrative (a romance, in the case of Love Songs, or the cycle of addiction in one of his most recent works, Exit).
"As a dancer I had many experiences and interests, all of which I borrow from," Keigwin explained. "I am also very interested in contemporary art, especially site-specific installation art work. I love fashion but certainly don't consider myself a fashionista -- I'm more of a Levis and t-shirt type of guy. I enjoy architecture and of course music. I observe human nature, animal behavior, pedestrian life."
Keigwin's dancers come from many traditions, too, but they share a fearless quality that makes them thrilling to watch. Writing in the Village Voice, critic Deborah Jowitt noted that "One of Keigwin's greatest gifts is for revealing the individuality of his champion dancers. He lets you see them, he allows you to love them."
Announcing the 2011-2012 season last year, Choregus Productions founder Ken Tracy called KEIGWIN+COMPANY "one of the most exciting dance tickets in the country." He also reported hearing Mikhail Baryshnikov say of the choreographer: "That is the future of dance."
"I am very excited for K+C's debut performance in Oklahoma," Keigwin said. "I think this particular program has something for everyone and especially highlights the individuality and talents of the dancers.
"I like to create for the dancer. The dancer rules."
KEIGWIN+COMPANY will perform at the Williams Theater at the PAC Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19, at 8pm. For more information, visit choregus.org and for tickets, call 918-596-7111.
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