Keigwin's Kingdom

Larry Keigwin looks on during a K + C rehearsal.

Every time they walk into the rehearsal studio, KEIGWIN + COMPANY dancers must wonder what the heck they’re about to become. Runway models? Birds? Aliens? Some bizarrely awesome combination of all three?

Helmed by fearless leader Larry Keigwin, K + C has produced a string of wildly different pieces since its birth in 2003—dances exploring everything from wedding-night jitters (Mattress Suite) to literal, coffee-induced jitters (Caffeinated). But all of them are distinctly, undeniably Keigwin. The choreographer’s style is an unlikely but perfect blend of music-video pop, cabaret cheekiness, nightclub posturing and downtown modern dance. And the dancers who bring all that craziness to life? In a word: superhuman.

It might seem like Keigwin, who majored in dance at Hofstra University, has multiple personality disorder. But his works’ various facets are really just an accumulation of his own experiences. “In high school, I started taking Graham technique as a way to get out of gym class—without even knowing it was Graham technique,” says the native New Yorker.

“At the same time I was taking jazz at a local studio and performing in the high school musical, and then eventually dancing on ‘Club MTV’ as a backup dancer. Later I performed on Broadway and in downtown concert work in NYC. It’s all in me.” And Modern Keigwin, Broadway Keigwin and Commercial Keigwin aren’t actually all that different. “I tend to see the connections between the various genres, rather than the differences,” he says. “It’s all under the universal heading of dance.”

Keigwin’s diverse style has attracted dancers eager—and able—to do it all. “I love that his work is extremely physical but also very dramatic,” says Kristina Hanna, who joined K + C in 2009. “I have a background in musical theater, and it’s so fun to be able to use that, as well as intense technique.” The 12 K + C dancers aren’t just pretty bodies to be molded, either: They’re intricately involved in Keigwin’s collaborative choreographic process.

“Usually we begin by improvising together in the studio, and things build from there,” says Keigwin, who also dances with the company. “I take a lot of cues from the dancers, relying on each one’s creative playfulness.” (At the DS shoot, the K + C dancers even referred to movement phrases by the names of the dancers who inspired them: “Let’s do the Ryoji [Sasamoto] phrase!” “How did the Kristina phrase begin again?”)

The result is a company of intellectually curious artists with serious charisma. “You don’t become a Keigwin dancer without a lot of personality!” says Matthew Baker, a company member since 2009. “I was drawn in by Larry’s openness to communicate with his dancers. I’ve been lucky to find a situation where I feel like I can contribute artistically and also perform really exciting work.” Kristina agrees. “Larry is constantly encouraging his artists to make their own choices,” she says. “It’s his choreography, but he wants us to make it personal—he wants it to be different every night onstage. There are always opportunities to explore and grow.”

If these dancers sound supersmart, it’s because they are: Nearly every member of K + C is a college graduate. In fact, working with college dancers is usually the way Keigwin finds new company members, since K + C doesn’t hold many open auditions. “Formal auditions aren’t my favorite,” Keigwin says. “I prefer seeing someone in class or at school, where I can work with them and get to know them for a while.” Since NYC-based Keigwin frequently choreographs pieces for The Juilliard School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, many of his dancers hail from those prestigious programs.

The K + C dancers are fiercely loyal to Keigwin—not just because they respect him as a choreographer, but because working with him is so darn fun. “I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to dance for Larry,” says Ashley Browne, who joined the company in 2007. “I was in college at NYU and he was choreographing our senior performance piece. He walked in and put on a crazy, cheesy Pat Benatar song. I was like, yes! So much of modern dance takes itself too seriously. Larry is a serious artist, but no matter where he goes, he’s going to have a good time.” And the company that plays together, stays together.

Next up on K + C’s busy touring schedule are performances in Washington, D.C., in March and NYC in June. The NYC shows will feature three new—and, as usual, utterly different—pieces: a work inspired by contact sports, a group dance with a musical-chairs vibe and a solo for Keigwin called Panic. “When I was first starting up the company, I had all this anxiety about ‘Are people going to like this?’ ” Keigwin remembers. “A friend said, ‘Larry, just create what you’d want to see.’ And that’s what I’m always trying to do.” Don’t worry, Larry: We like it—a lot.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

Meet the K + C Cover Stars

KRISTINA HANNA

Birthday: October 7, 1986

Hometown: West Bloomfield, MI

College: The Juilliard School

Favorite dance movie: Flashdance. “I love underdog stories, and I love dancers

who are unafraid to take risks.”

Who would play her in a movie: “I get Halle Berry a lot. But I have huge hair! So I don’t know about that.”

Dance idols: Brian Brooks, Crystal Pite, Kate Weare, William Forsythe

Dance crush: Fellow K + C dancer Gary Schaufeld

Hidden talent: “I’m getting to be a serious yogini. I’m pretty proud of my headstands and arm balances.”

Little-known fact about her: “I have a fake tooth. One of my adult teeth just never grew in.”

Advice for DS readers: “You can’t fake an original. Be the first-rate dancer you are.”

 

Photo by Nathan Sayers

MATTHEW BAKER

Birthday: September 12, 1985

Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

College: Western Michigan University

Most-played song on his iPod: “Probably Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia.’ It’s my sit-up song.”

Favorite food: “Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce—I’m obsessed with it. And Diet Pepsi. I can drink whole two-liter bottles at a time.”

Who would play him in a movie: Robert Pattinson. “I actually dressed as him for Halloween last year.”

Dance idols: Trisha Brown and Elizabeth Streb

Dance crush: Fellow K + C dancer Aaron Carr

Little-known fact about him: “I have a commercial driver’s license. I’ve driven a school bus.”

Advice for DS readers: “Always keep your sense of fun. You might be struggling, but having a sense of humor—and taking everything with a grain of salt—will put things in perspective.”

Photo by Nathan Sayers

ASHLEY BROWNE

Birthday: June 23, 1986

Hometown: L.A.

College: New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts

Favorite movie: Sister Act. “There’s something about Motown that really gets to me.”

Must-see TV: “‘Jeopardy,’ because I’m a big nerd.”

Dance idol: Susan Stroman. “I love her sense of theatricality.”

Dance crush: Fellow K + C dancer Ryoji Sasamoto

Little-known fact about her: “I plan to own my own island someday.”

Advice for DS readers: “If you can’t find a job dancing, stay within the dance community. I started out on the administrative side for K + C. You’ll figure out a way to make it work.”

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