Keigwin + Company opened the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center’s spring season on a bright note. Bright as in smart. A piece, 10th Floor, that Larry Keigwin choreographed in 1992 while still a student at Hofstra, shows that early on he already had a developed sense of form and a bold, clear palette of movement. Keigwin, Alexander Gish, Julian Barnett, and Aaron Walter engage in wary athletics. The reason for the wariness becomes clear when a taped voice reads a letter from a young man to his mother about the illness of someone close to them—and Barnett distorts his gestures and covers his mouth.
Angels of Anxiety, also originally made for students—at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts—but nearly a dozen years later, blends physical ebullience and doubt in designs of lashing, leaping energy, imposed on Philip Glass’s driving Flow. The initial image—nine dancers holding red balloons—is an ironic introduction to the jump, crash, and shudder dynamics with which the group, dressed by Elizabeth Payne in individualized black-white-red urban-Gypsy outfits, attacks the sudden wheeling direction changes of Keigwin’s patterns. The whispering, Nicole Walcott’s silent talking, and the solitary balloon she blows up and lets dwindle suggest that this is a parade everyone expects will be rained on.
Keigwin’s other new work, Natural Selection, involves more complicated interactions between its five knockout performers (Liz Riga, Ying-Ying Shiau, Barnett, Gish, and Wolcott). Although they enter with water bottles, stretching their limbs and adjusting their clothes, this is no dance class. It’s a lesson in survival, and judging from the way they hunch their shoulders and stare upward, you know surviving could be a problem, as Dale Knoth’s lighting and Michael Gordon’s drastic score also hint. In the meantime, the five scrabble around, grab or drag one another, squabble, and occasionally join in a marathon of dancing. Gish scuttles on all fours like a determined but disoriented crab. Riga crawls with Gish collapsed on her back. Shiau runs up and over a clump of bodies and, a couple of times, is hoisted horizontally and helped to walk or run along the back wall (!). Who’s the fittest here? Is that even an issue?
The program also featured Keigwin’s wonderful four-part Mattress Suite. By backing his solo, Sunshine, with the same mattress that he and Wolcott have edged along and bounced onto in an acutely portrayed male-female nonevent (Straight Duet), he makes explosive leaps seem to carry his dissatisfaction forward. Hands that we barely glimpse poking out from behind the mattress as they hold it on end for him may be the solution. When the mattress drops again, it’s occupied by Keigwin, Barnett, and Gish (Three Ways). Although their ingeniously wrought sensual shenanigans to an aria from La Traviata conclude with Barnett out in the cold, and although Wolcott seems, eventually, to accept being alone (At Last), the unseen men support the mattress wall and, at the end, all three lift and carry her away. Whatever the message, it’s delivered with class and feeling as true as tomorrow.
P.S.122’s upstairs theater retains some of its original funkiness, but various improvements over the years have also made it an ideal showplace for urban bleakness. Lighted grimly, its black pillars, odd corners, and mysterious doors can immerse us in nonspecific urban gloom. Alejandra Martorell’s They are not falling certainly implies such an atmosphere. Eight dancers who appear intermittently seem to stand for an anonymous crowd—clumping restlessly or, in one of Erik Bruce’s transient corridors of white light at the back, moving as if wondering whether to line up for something. When they run holding hands, they absorb soloists like a human vacuum. Although we see them clearly, in some sense they’re as blurry as the figures in Maya Ciarrocchi’s intermittent black-and-white videos (inspired by the work of video artist Michal Rovner).
Juxtaposed to this group of wanderers are two women, Astrud Angarita and Sigal Bergman, whose adventures are gripping in their mysteriousness. Once the two meet, they seem unable to separate. They try out awkward moves too close to each other, twisting to poke their limbs into the negative spaces between them. They act as if they have to stay stuck together when they travel, but make it hard to get anywhere and never blunder into anything resembling comfort. When things get impossible, they tangle violently on the floor. The score, by Douglas Henderson and Guy Yarden, provides a suitably restless landscape of sounds—quiet rattling, sustained tones, thunder, and the like—which, although clear to the ear, are veiled in relation to the action. At some point, I become less interested in Angarita and Bergman and the rut they’re in. Do they even know what they want? I’m startled and both pleased and disappointed when, at the very end, they roll apart and laugh.
Martorell herself, dancing a solo near the beginning of the piece and later reprising elements of it, is an engaging performer—delicate but firm, able to fold down to the floor like a deer. But the steps she has choreographed look almost generic; they don’t tell me enough about her and her role in this intriguing work.
Experiencing Zvi Gotheiner’s new Territories is like attending a very good party, where the food is plentiful and varied and the company lively. Here and there, you may encounter something inconsequential or foolish or a little bit boring, but far more often the level of conversation—whether witty or serious—engages you fully.
The analogy, of course, breaks down. You can’t stroll from group to group at a dance concert (this one, like Keigwin’s, part of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Project season). However, the Israeli-born Gotheiner solves a captive audience’s problem with surprising changes of pace in what amounts to a string of vignettes stirred together with dancing, and a very broadly interpreted theme. The territories that the dancers mark via fanciful chalk lines on the floor before the performance actually starts are meant to be breached in positive ways, as when Kuan Hui Chew teaches a Chinese song to Todd Allen (who occasionally has to break into a brief twisty bout of dancing in order to loosen his tongue for further instruction), or when Eric Hoisington, during a runway parade in which the dancers introduce themselves, outlines the strictly defined codes of his upper-class WASP family—leaving us to guess what boundaries he had to cross to develop his beautifully articulate dancing. Near the end, all nine splendid and very diverse performers unite to sweep big, luscious dancing across the floor, while raising their voices together in a song praising King David that every kid in Israel learns.
Gotheiner apparently defines “territory” as country of origin, customs, neighborhood, one’s apartment, and so on. In one of the few dark moments, Ying-Ying Shiau relates unnerving instances of racist taunts aimed at her by young black men in New York. Ashley Gilbert paces the balcony that rings the Duke’s performing area, cell phone in hand, angrily telling her mother about neighbors whose noises and smells seep through the walls into her private space.
The choreographer credits his dancers as collaborators and it is largely because of their contributions and how he shapes them that Territories speaks so eloquently of individuality and cooperation. The performers not only speak and sing excellently; all of them—Allen, Chew, Jimmy Everett, Gilbert, Hoisington, Elisa King, Barbara Koch, Shiau, and Verena Tremel—get a chance to reveal themselves in dance. And all are distinctive movers, never superficial and fascinating to watch (has anyone ever achieved such lithe distortions while emphasizing fourth position as home base the way Everett does in his solo?). The choreography plays with themes of harmony—sometimes incorporating folk-dance steps and patterns—and encroachment. In one memorable and disturbing trio, Allen and Everett hold hands almost the entire time that they manipulate Shiau by the head, while her eyes stay closed.
At his most successful, Gotheiner weaves speaking and dancing together to illumine each other, aided by the music and its sometimes ironic juxtapositions. In addition to the richly varied instrumental music Scott Killian has composed, his taped score includes ominous thuds, Middle Eastern melodies, and male voices swelling in a pounding ritual that calls Carl Orff to mind. Interestingly, the performers’ singing, like their dancing, also blends consensus and individual assertion. The harmonies that ensue when they sing “Home on the Range” a cappella are startling; the familiar song in Hebrew breaks down into canon and eventually into cacophony.