By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Keigwin + Company, a contemporary dance group directed by Larry Keigwin. When Keigwin and co-founder Nicole Wolcott put on their first show at Joyce Soho 10 years ago, they had no idea they would end up where they are today.
“The company formed out of pure maintenance… the nuts and bolts of managing a show. And where we are today… I had never imagined this is where we’d be,” says 41-year old Keigwin.
This multi-talented choreographer says that he owes much of the trajectory of his career to the support and encouragement from his company. From concert dance to cabaret, from working with dancers with no training to professional ballet dancers, Keigwin has explored a diverse range of choreographic platforms in the dance world. Currently in Washington D.C., Keigwin is now working on his first Broadway show.
“This is a huge landmark for me,” he says of If/Then, a musical that just premiered in Washington D.C. in November and is slated to debut on Broadway in New York in the spring of 2014.
According to Keigwin, the success of his company began 10 years ago with, of all things, a mattress.
“Nicole and I started creating together though a residency. I saw her do a cool flip on a bed once, so we literally pulled the mattress on to the floor and started working,” Keigwin says.
Initially using some images from an art book of a couple on a bed, this first piece, now entitled, Mattress Suite, explores sexual identity and relationships through various solos, duets and trios set to operatic music. It has since become a signature work for the company, and when their 10th anniversary rolled around, they began to brainstorm with their PR firm about how to best celebrate their achievements and continue promoting their work.
The result is a video series called #ShareTheMattress, a growing accumulation of online videos created by Keigwin’s company and the broader community. All of the videos are available on various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) and anyone who feels inspired to create a video may submit their ideas simply by using the tag #ShareTheMattress. Videos from fellow choreographers around the country, dancers and friends of the company are now part of the series.
Keigwin says, “One of the videos has 50,000 hits, which is a lot. All videos combined, there are over 100,000 hits on YouTube. We’ll see if it turns into tickets!”
He notes that even 10 years in the making, the company is still solidifying their identity and how to promote themselves.
“Keigwin is not an easy name. We’re still working on our identity. We’re not Ailey, and we have a small budget,” he says.
Keigwin believes that in order to keep the company thriving, they must continually branch into new platforms. Whether their work is online or on Broadway, they have to keep exploring.
Since 2007, the company has taken that exploration into working with untrained dancers via their Bolero project, a large-scale work that can be created for communities anywhere. At the heart of K + C’s outreach program, Bolero can incorporate up to 50 performers of all backgrounds. When it came to deciding which people should fill up that space, Keigwin thought that the piece should represent the demographics of the city it was created in, not just the dance community.
Keigwin says laughingly, “I was dumb enough to choose Bolero for the music. So grand… so big. So I thought, let’s just choose a lot of people and fill up the space. Let’s make this work with New Yorkers starring New Yorkers… I love watching non-dancers experience the joy of dance on stage. It grounds it in reality.”
One might think that working with untrained dancers would be a radically different process than a typical rehearsal with professionals, but Keigwin notes that while the vocabulary of movement is certainly different, his role as a director remains much the same.
“I’m always collaborating. I’m merely there as an editor, not creating dance steps,” he says. “Anybody and everybody get cast. It’s up to the choreographer to make everyone look good and feel comfortable and to engage and entertain the audience.”
K + C recently marked its anniversary with a season at New York’s Joyce Theater on October 29-November 3. Complete with audience favorite’s Mattress Suite and Natural Selection, the show also presented the New York premiere Girls and also, Canvas, a work that premiered this summer at the Vail International Dance Festival that includes four ballet dancers in the cast with K + C members.
Still, Keigwin hints at upcoming projects beyond the traditional concert venue, including potential work in film and also a project with the senior population. This range of work not only supports the company economically, but also keeps audiences and artists alike interested in the work.
He says, “The world is not staying in a box. Everything is moving and changing so rapidly, and we either change with it or become history. I’m interested in the change.”
Photo (top): Larry Keigwin. Photo by Matthew Murphy.