Larry Keigwin’s 10th anniversary show at the Joyce was a nicely varied retrospective of his work, although several of his earlier works include elements that are no longer fresh and occasionally come across as gimmicky. However, his most recent work, Canvas, assured me that Mr Keigwin is in full command of his choreographic power.

Girls © Whitney Browne
Girls
© Whitney Browne

I like to think of Keigwin + Company’s repertoire as some of the most accessible in the modern dance world; if I were tasked with introducing someone to modern dance for the very first time, I would feel comfortable taking them to a Keigwin show. Mr Keigwin’s opening piece, Mattress Suite, is a humorous and clever series of vignettes between a couple and a mattress. There is the requisite bouncing on and off the mattress (often in inventive ways, yes) and unique manipulations of it, but there is also a sense of done-before. I can safely assume that this piece was exceedingly fresh ten years ago when it premièred, but that freshness has not quite lasted.

Mr Keigwin’s Natural Selection got better as it went on. At first seeming little more than a textbook how-to-create-a-modern-dance piece, it gradually morphed into something more interesting. The Joyce’s back wall was exposed and smartly used – the dancers, eager to escape from, alternately, some unseen predatory force and each other, attempted to scale it and even ran across it horizontally (propped up by others). Mr Keigwin’s choreography succeeded best at its simplest, as when the dancers jogged in place from side to side. That movement, when repeated by several dancers, did more to convey the hunter-and-prey atmosphere than anything else.

Mr Keigwin’s Girls was a crowd pleaser – due partly to four flyaway sets of glittery curtain streamers – but I found it the most difficult to swallow. I like the idea of him choreographing an homage to his female dancers, but prancing in and out of curtain strands to Frank Sinatra’s music is hard to take seriously. It seems a misuse of his obviously talented dancers.

His final piece of the evening, Canvas, which premiered at the Vail dance festival earlier this year, was far more promising. Originally choreographed on several New York City Ballet dancers, it owed much to Paul Taylor’s Esplanade (including costuming). The dancers galumphed across the stage with grace at exquisite speed, coupling and re-coupling themselves amidst fouette sautés and Mr Keigwin’s unique interpretation of a cabriole. There was a sense of purpose and community. Gimmicks were absent, and the piece thrived.