Volume 79, Number 02 | June 17 - 23, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Dance

KEIGWIN + COMPANY
Jun. 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Jun. 25 at 8 p.m.
Jun. 27 at 2 & 8 p.m.

NICHOLAS LEICHTER DANCE
Jun. 24 at 7:30 p.m.: Jun. 26 at 8 p.m.
Jun. 28 at 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St.
$19-$49; joyce.org
Or 212-242-0800

TOM CARAVAGLIA

Nicholas Leichter dance’s updated “Free the Angels” will accompany the premiere of “Killa.”

Slaves to the Rhythm

Nicholas Leichter, Larry Keigwin bring distinctive dance voices to Joyce

By Gus Solomons Jr

Two exciting dance makers –– Nicholas Leichter and Larry Keigwin –– both irresistibly driven by rhythm, are sharing a week at the Joyce Theater, alternating days. Both represent New York-style, highly physical, buoyant, joyful dancing with an intriguing edginess lurking just beneath the highly entertaining surface. But each has a distinct and distinctly appealing choreographic voice.

Since its founding in 1996, Nicholas Leichter Dance has been exploring the territory between the vocabularies of concert dance and of vernacular movement. For his Joyce Theater debut, Leichter’s new “Killa” asks, according to the company release, “how dance music, from B-boy to House, Punk-Funk to Reggaeton, functions both as a social and political force.”

Leichter overlays funky, elbow-flapping, crotch-grabbing moves –– an infectious mix of hip hop, West African, and disco-drag –– with references to money, politics, and fashion. Wall Street meltdown, unemployment anxiety, war, and platform high heels are all in the mix.

In the section he calls “the routine” –– down-and-dirty Afro-disco –– the cast wears what he calls “camouflage-couture, ready-to-wear, mesh-with-a-bra, black-glasses, total Iraq chic.” Leichter explained, “And then I hope I can get us blinged out for the ‘chicken dance.’ The hard part is figuring out if we can change clothes that quickly.”

Music by Basement Jaxx, M.I.A., and Lionrock, and live performance by Monstah Black –– whom Leichter refers to as “our fearless drag leader” –– drives “Killa.” In fact, Black’s fabulousness partially inspired the work. “In the concert world,” Leichter said, “you don’t go onstage unless [the dance] is tight, but [in drag culture] their idea is, it’s the outside first; Monstah’s whole thing is ‘You don’t go onstage unless you look good!’”

Sharing the limelight in “Killa” will be students Leichter discovered at Sacramento and Wayne State Universities during residencies there, who he said can do anything. Besides being sensational dancers, he noted their generational tendency not to draw value distinctions between high- and low-brow, freely mingling styles. Street dance rubs elbows with art dance –– no judgment. Leichter observed that gender lines are blurring as well for tweens and Gen-X-ers. “Like with [David] Bowie,” he said, “you can wear high heels, gay or straight, it doesn’t matter.”

Leichter is also remounting and updating his “Free the Angels” (2001), featuring several of the original cast members.

Keigwin founded his troupe Keigwin + Company in 2003 with associate director Nicole Wolcott and has made a lot of noise in the downtown dance world since then. His sense of humor, emotional clarity, and athletic dancing have garnered him a boatload of fans.

His premiere of “Triptych” is a bit of a departure. Unlike the zany, romantic duets of “Love Songs” (2006) or “Natural Selection” (2004), an ode on Darwinian theory — both also on the bill — “Triptych” is a formal piece, a compositional essay with original music by Jonathan Pratt.

Last year, Keigwin made a dynamic piece for Juilliard students. “That was the first time I worked with a composer,” he said, “so I wanted to extend the collaboration with that composer and with the lighting designer,” Clifton Davis.

Keigwin’s last piece for his own company was “The Elements,” seen last summer at the Joyce. “People really responded to the last section, ‘Air,’ and that was particularly a lot of dancing, and I wanted to get back to that,” he said. “The stage is going to be very white, with a strip of neon on the floor, and the dancers are in black leotards.”

The finale of Keigwin’s program will be a reprise of his hilarious take on Ravel’s “Bolero” for a cast of 50 performers. It stole the show at NYU’s Skirball Center in 2007. And after a New York Times review advised, “Go!,” the second performance was delayed for half an hour to accommodate the crowd that wrapped around the block to buy tickets.

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