Keeping everyone on their toes

"I consider myself a collector," says Larry Keigwin, artist director of New York-based contemporary dance group Keigwin + Company, who perform at Diana Wortham Theatre March 30 and 31. "I collect a lot of ideas and movement vocabulary, and then I edit."

Keigwin also collects photos of clothing, store windows, vintage apparel and anything else that catches his eye. When choreographing a dance, "it all goes into the pool," he says

In a 2010 video about the creation of "Bird Watching," Keigwin explains that some of the poses were derived from models in vintage Sears catalogs. “One juxtaposition I like playing with is pedestrian, everyday vocabulary versus very technical dance vocabulary," says the choreographer.

Keigwin, a Hofstra grad, danced freelance for several New York City companies before settling in as associate director for Mark Dendy's Dendy Dancetheater. He also danced on Broadway for the Metropolitan Opera.

But, as a child, Keigwin wasn't a Billy Elliot in the making. According to a New York Times article, he studied gymnastics and joined a circus-training program. By the time he did make it to a dance class, MTV had become the hatching ground for upstarts, so Keigwin landed a job as a backup dancer in a few episodes of the program Club MTV, says the Times.

And, while today's Keigwin + Company (founded in 2003) is not the stuff of Downtown Julie Brown and Hammer pants, the dance troupe's pieces reference pop culture, fashion, street style and night life.

"I think that art work is a reflection of the creator's personality," says Keigwin. "I have a friendly, approachable personality and so do the dancers I work with.” He says that sometimes modern dance can take itself very seriously and there have been instances of critics deeming his work superficial. "But then the next thing I create is not superficial," says Keigwin. "I like to keep everybody on their toes. I don't think we just create one thing: We're a very versatile company."

When Xpress spoke to Keigwin, he was in Wellington, choreographing a new ballet for Royal Ballet of New Zealand. The new work involves fashion, which sounds fun but, "It's completely trial and error and it makes me nervous," says the choreographer. For the New Zealand ballet company, Keigwin bought dresses in vintage stores and some don't have the flexibility required for the dancers’ movement. No problem: "I think that necessity is the mother of invention and sometimes I have to trust that," says Keigwin. "In those moments I'll have the dancers take the dresses off."

Keigwin is no stranger to taking risks. He's worked with Radio City Rockettes and with the band/performance act Fischerspooner. But perhaps the most interesting collaboration in the one Keigwin shares with his dancers each time he creates a new work. "I'm interested in dancers who have the ‘wow’ factor, who really sparkle in the room amongst others, have the personality and the physical technique, but they also have to be people who are interested in the creative process and are creative thinkers and doers," he says.

In a video posted on the company's web site, Keigwin explains that the process involves proposing creative assignments like, "I need a phrase that represents an awkward relationship, and they go to work." Then, "I feel like my control is in how I sew it all together, but I really enjoy setting a playful climate in the studio," says Keigwin.

His hope is that the pieces “exist in a unique world” and, he says, “I try to create vocabulary that fits in that world and that is authentic.” While choreography is about reinvention, Keigwin also responds to real-life movements like walking, running and skipping.

“Some of those physical things are so recognizable,” he says. “So often dancers are put on a pedestal because they are acrobats of God, but I also like to bring it down to earth once in a while.”

The dances that Keigwin + Company will bring to Asheville have diverse origins. "Caffeinated," says Keigwin, "came about from the fact that I was always holding a cup of coffee, so I decided to keep the coffee cup as a prop." "Love Songs," a series of six duets, was inspired by the chemistry between the dancers involved in the creation.  And the there's "Male Quartet," a new piece that the dance troupe will preview at Diana Wortham before debuting it at the Joyce Theatre in Manhattan. "I'm one of four boys, and there are probably some parallels from my own family," says the choreographer.

As for letting Asheville have the first look: "I have a New York season coming up in June and it just makes sense to test drive it out or town and work out the kinks," says Keigwin. "It's a luxury."

— Alli Marshall can be reached at

who: Keigwin + Company
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Friday and Saturday, March 30 & 31 (8 p.m. nightly. $35 general, $30 students.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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