I see Larry Keigwin as a mixologist: In his works, sweet seriousness, camp, and flash assert and mingle their flavors. This is not surprising; he grew up watching MTV, has a B.A. in dance from Hofstra, and was an associate choreographer for the Rockettes. His new Elements is a four-act revue, in which witty dances may follow outright beautiful ones, or others that neither fully celebrate nor satirize the showbiz clichés they’re built on.
Water, for instance, begins with six dancers rushing on- and offstage in a flow of vivid patterns that accord splendidly with the Andante from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 (familiar to movie buffs from the film Elvira Madigan). Wearing ingenious outfits of white towels (the first of Liz Prince’s terrific costumes), they caper, fluttering their hands and opening their arms as if to welcome a rain shower. (Keigwin can’t let loveliness have the last word, though: As the group exits, Liz Riga hikes her towel to flash her bare buttocks.) In Water‘s second section, “Sea,” small, vibrant, bikini-clad Ying-Ying Shiau plays the typical queen-bee soloist while a backup group of three men in terrycloth robes floats her over the waves and Eartha Kitt purrs Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.”
A more imaginative take on water (as well as on the ubiquity of plastic bottles) occurs in “Spa.” Alexander Gish, his head wrapped in a towel, undulates his hips with grave delight to Marcela Cortez Galvan’s “Que Serà de Mi?” At first, he’s refreshed by the water brought to him by Ashley Browne, but she’s not taking any refusals, and there’s only so much drinking and showering he’s prepared to do. Finally, she offers him a pair of high heels, and he struts away, while Mozart’s concerto floods back in for the final allegro.
Keigwin builds on Gish’s expert timing and deadpan delivery, but he also displays dancers in more grave and lyrical ways. His own solo in Earth, to Claude Debussy’s Syrinx, is a beauty—as changeable in timing as the gecko it’s named after. Riga’s luxuriant power, as she dances to Etta James delivering “Stormy Weather,” defines earthiness in another way. In Fire, Ryoji Sasamoto gives a charming display of acrobatic prowess, and the always wonderful Nicole Wolcott, trapped in Burke Wilmore’s follow spot, keeps passion’s flame burning while Patsy Cline sings Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”
This choreographer is smart about music. In Air, he and Gish perform an amicable precision duet (“Breeze”) to Perry Como crooning “Catch a Falling Star,” and the bright ensemble dancing in the finale, “Wind,” pulses along with Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar playing Glass’s Channels and Winds. I’m not sure that Keigwin has the mix of askew showbiz numbers and less audience-oriented dancing quite right yet, but his concoction goes down very smoothly indeed.
The geezer sitting next to me on the low wall surrounding the rectangular lawn in Robert Wagner Jr. Park eats blueberries. The noon sun glares. The Hudson hustles choppily along. A couple of chums asking passersby to snap their picture turn out to be choreographer Monica Bill Barnes and Deborah Lohse (wearing a Statue of Liberty crown). I crane my neck around two stroller moms to watch Barnes’s red-in-the-face struggles to prop up the much taller Lohse, while behind them Anna Bass, Lindsey Kelley, Mindy Upin, and Mary Ann Wall flatten themselves against a brick wall to become an earnest, tough-girl chorus line (Bass, in park-ranger attire, has ideas of her own). Elvis is singing. A cocky preteen boy briefly and convincingly joins in before running off with his guffawing buddies.
Barnes’s Game Face is just one of the events commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for its Sitelines 2008 (part of the River to River Festival). From late May to mid-September, dancing erupts in city parks and around landmark buildings. While the six women work their asses off in Barnes’s smart, daft choreography, and Adam Covalt and Donna Costello occasionally labor to lip-synch the King, we spectators get a refreshing lunch break. Look! Now the dancers are ranged along the bridge that spans the park entrance, stepping tautly to “Jailhouse Rock.” The joke is, we can’t see the hip action, and they fall out of sight as if downed by exhaustion or unseen guards.
Barnes, Lohse, and Bass stay in mufti, but the others change into shiny white, mid-calf dresses (costumes by Kelly Hanson). Lupin and Wall sport feather headdresses and Kelley a crown, and all six wear shades. “I’ll remember you,” croons Elvis. Right. There’s no rest for these hearty dime-store bridesmaids. They race around the perimeter, show their stuff to the river, doggedly punch out eccentric precision routines, and fly kites. Then at 1 p.m., they do it all again.