Braving the 'Elements' with Larry KeigwinJanuary 14, 2011
Philadelphia Gay News
January 14, 2011
Out choreographer Larry Keigwin is bringing his dance company to town for its Philadelphia debut Jan. 20-22 at Zellerbach Theater.
Keigwin is known around the world for his choreography, which often displays a strong pop sensibility fitting, considering he got his start 20-some years ago as a teen dancer on the Downtown Julie Brown-hosted Club MTV.
Since then, he has choreographed for high-profile dance companies such as Martha Graham and the Rockettes. His work has also been seen in musicals like The Wild Party.
Keigwin formed his own dance troupe, Keigwin + Company, in 2003, more out of desire to put on a show than any ambition to be in charge, he said.
I never really set out to have a company. I just titled the performance Keigwin + Company. But it was more that I had created enough dances to put on my own show. So I think about maintaining the company as a series of putting on the next show. Through that desire to put on shows, weve also built the infrastructure of a company, nonprofit status and a board of directors. Now, eight years later, Im more comfortable with the fact of really maintaining a company and maintaining a body of work and a creative and touring schedule that is not just about putting on the next show, but about being a professional thriving company. Im currently more aware of the larger picture, not just the dances Im creating.
Based in New York City, where theres two Starbucks for every dance company, Keigwin attributes his companys success in a crowded and competitive field to just having the faith and the confidence.
I feel very supported by the dance community in New York and internationally, he said. I think if youre really following your own voice and being authentic that you will naturally stand out. Art is really an extension of our personality and we all have such unique personalities, so its just about trying to be very authentic and not trying to stand out because of competitiveness but because youre being genuine.
For the Philadelphia performance, Keigwin and his seven-member dance troupe are scheduled to perform a full-length piece entitled Elements, comprised of four works, each inspired by one of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. Each segment promises to showcase Keigwins provocative and entertaining sense of spectacle and showmanship.
To me, its a unique look at each element in hopefully a witty, physical and slightly campy way, he said about Elements. I was creating a work about water and I was really liking the direction of it, particularly [the inspiration of] the East River in New York. I was living on the East River at the time. And after the success of creating Water, I decided lets just make a whole evening of the elements in a twisted way. Air is [inspired by] flight attendants. Theres inspiration in each of them. In Water, obviously the inspiration is H2O, but theres also this whole bathhouse aesthetic where everyone is just wrapped in towels. Theres a juxtaposition of upper and lower classes. In Fire, I come from the MTV generation and I find a lot of contemporary pop culture very entertaining. So thats where fires influence comes in. For Earth, I was inspired by my parents retirement community. Its all lizard-like.
Keigwin added that Elements shares the exuberant tone found in most of his works.
I think the larger body of my work, which is up to 35-40 dances, is all very different, he said. But this particular program is on the lighthearted side.
Lighthearted, modern and pop-oriented might be the so-called norm for Keigwin and his company, but dont get too comfortable with that label. He has said his works have a solid foundation in classic dance training.
All my dancers, including me, have been trained in ballet, he said. We just choose to be more contemporary artists. I love the structure of classical music and ballet. They have a great influence on me and my work. Theres so much to learn about composition and craft.
He added that he is currently putting the finishing touches on a new piece that definitely cant be described as lighthearted.
Im working on a dance that will premiere in March in New York; its called Dark Habits, he said. Its a much darker work and very physical. Its a collaboration with two new composers. It is sort of a night out on the town that parallels the sequence of addiction. So theres dependency, more dependency, escape, a heightened escape, withdrawal and recovery. Im constantly interested in excavating and evaluating the human condition.
Another upcoming project Keigwin is working on is the stage adaptation of some classic LGBT literature.
Im currently working with two members of the Scissor Sisters and the writer and director of Avenue Q. Theyre making a new musical based on the gay iconic book series Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, he said.
He added that for that project hes serving as a choreographer.
Im not driving that ship, so its about a lot of give and take and a lot of sitting and listening to the creative process and watching things unfold and hopefully having an influence where Im needed. All of us have been mutual fans of each others work and weve swam in similar circles. So I think we share a similar aesthetic, so in a way it feels very intuitive.
Keigwins ability to bounce in and out of the traditional realms of choreography have served him well, as he occasionally finds himself collaborating with artists, performers and personalities outside the world of dance. Hes choreographed routines for the pop band Fischerspooner and comedian Murray Hill, as well as events such as Fashion Weeks Fashions Night Out: The Show, which Vogue produced.
While not the highly skilled group of dancers he is accustomed to working with, Keigwin said that wrangling 150 of the industrys top models into a coherent show for Fashion Week was something new and different. Plus he got the personal thrill of working with all-powerful Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Its the job of the choreographer to access the abilities of the performers, and choreography isnt about being the best dancer, he said. Its about saying something with the talent you have. I find sometimes its really refreshing to work with performers with no dance ability. Its the job of the choreographer to excavate what they do best. It could be very minimal.
When asked if he was bringing these artists and individuals into the world of dance or if he was being brought into their worlds, Keigwin said the collaborations were an exchange.
Its a quiet exchange. Were definitely bringing the art of choreography. Sometimes a project Im involved with isnt necessarily a physical dance but bringing the idea of choreography and orchestrating human traffic into peoples worlds has definitely happened. And then vice versa: Im influenced by how specific the fashion world can be and the process of how a musical-theater show happens. Its a two-way street.
As if all those projects werent enough, Keigwin has also created Keigwin Kabaret, which fuses modern dance, vaudeville and burlesque. He said audience members who catch one of the performances of Elements will get an idea of what his Kabaret shows are like.
Elements is more similar to the Kabaret than any of my other works, he said. The Kabaret is nightlife what happens after 10 oclock. Its more of a party in terms of drinks are served. Its a vaudeville-curated show that I string together with dance. So it includes other art forms like burlesque and comedy, whereas the dance company is a little more balls-out dance.
Theres a good chance Keigwin might have been talking literally when he said balls out, so be forewarned.