“Was that a GAP ad?” my seat mate asked following the first Keigwin + Company piece. It did have that feel. The contemporary dance troupe — the ladies in brightly colored dresses, slacks and short-sleeve button-downs for the men — could literally have just heard “Cut!” on the chain’s commercial set, so familiar were their movements to the brand’s well-known dance campaigns. But the bigger question was why, a mere 15 minutes into the show, were my seat mate and I chatting with one another? Well, that’s because following that first dance the curtain zipped closed and the houselights came up. Intermission already? No. Rather, one of five breaks in an oddly staged and at times sloppy performance by Keigwin + Co.
And I so wanted to like them.
Megalopolis, a futuristic piece based on the club scene in New York, had been one of the main draws to see the show. But when the pulsing music began and a man appeared in crystal-coated wet-suit, looking like a cross between a bedazzled seal and Woody Allen as a human sperm in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask, my anticipation deflated. I could have forgiven the costumes had the founder Larry Keigwin’s choreography been exceptional. But it wasn’t. It felt amateur and often the dancers weren’t in synch. This could have been the result of some last minute understudies, who knows. Sure Megalopolis had its moments. When the bumping beats of singer M.I.A. got one dancer booty shaking, garnering applause, I confess, had I been three cocktails in and within easy reach of a pair of glowsticks, I’d have danced it up with him at any disco. But that’s the thing, it sort of just looked like really good dancers at a club, not a professional company of the caliber Spoleto traditionally puts forth.
However, the dancers aren’t to blame. Their sinewy bodies, beautiful extensions, and obscene flexibility displayed their skill. They just needed the right moves. Again on Megalopolis, there was a scene when the company formed a long line and started essentially forward-thrusting leapfrog-style. It felt all too Waiting for Guffman (Google the movie and type in dance). And modern dance, can we please stop with the feet dragging walk-off move? It’s like a sashay but with magnets glued to the dancers’ soles making them drag their toes while swishing their bottoms. There has to be a better way to exit the stage.
One exit that came too soon however was the strongest section of the show, a three-piece vignette based on love. Three couples danced to songs by Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, and the Animals. In stark lighting the pieces gave the dancers a much needed opportunity to show some emotion and humor and the audience reacted in kind. Here’s where Keigwin’s choreography really worked. He explored lovers’ relationships using their bodies to display frustration as one female dancer seemingly karate-chopped the air around her partner’s head, or when another dancer showed intimacy thrusting her head into her partner’s belly. But steps of passion were quickly traded for the abstract in the final movement.
Imagine the B-52s had cloned themselves and forsaken “Love Shack” fame for dance. That’s what the Keigwin cast looked like in the final act. All the women donned huge, bouffant wigs and solid primary color dresses while the men wore black suits with skinny black ties. Moving in straight lines, crisscrossing the stage, it was like watching a Piet Mondriaan painting come to life. Until they undressed. The gals in high-waisted panties and bras, the gents in black and white-banded briefs spun and thrusted and displayed their zero body-fat physiques. It all felt very fashion week, especially when the dancers marched into the audience, one of whom got stuck there when the song ended. He awkwardly dashed back on stage in time to take a bow but, huh — was he supposed to end up back on stage or not? Why would a professional company end their performance on such a sloppy note? The answer, I’m afraid, is they wouldn’t. And until Keigwin gets a tighter show together, they just aren’t what we’ve come to expect from Spoleto’s dance offerings.