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The American Dance Festival continues this week with a program that might be called "Youth and Age," with Larry Keigwin and Robert Battle as Youth and the legendary Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons, Jr., of PARADIGM, as Age. In an intriguing, high-energy evening, the elders dance new duets commissioned by the ADF from Keigwin and Battle, and each choreographer's company performs works by him — including another newly commissioned work by each.
Keigwin, a former ADF student, founded Keigwin and Company in 2003; this is its third appearance at the Festival. Keigwin's three works on the program, all from 2008, are very much more mature than those he presented in 2006 and 2004 while retaining the amazing energy and inventiveness that made the earlier work indicative of better things to come. His penchant for mockery still undoes him, but parts of both Water and Air are so wonderful that we can hope for a snide-free dance by 2010.
Each of these first two of a planned Elements group of dances comprises four sections. Structurally and attitudinally, Water and Air are a little too similar to satisfy in the same program, but both showcase some fabulous dancing and clever mixes of music. The trouble with Keigwin is that so much of the work involves satire, mockery, and send-up that when he appears to be serious and revealing, one is hard-pressed to trust him. In Air, for instance, there are two ravishing dances, set to Debussy's "Arabesque" and Philip Glass' "Channels and Winds" — but one suspects that possibly the audience is being gulled and is somehow the butt of the joke (since there is no obvious other target, as in some of the other sections), and that rather spoils the pleasure.
Keigwin's dance for de Lavallade and Solomons, Mirror Mirror, is a slight thing, but it is pleasant because of the expressiveness of the dancers. It is set to Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself," and the dancers, in white tie and tails, move in mirror image, and have a fine time doing it. Robert Battle revisited an earlier work of his own for Two Redux. Despite Solomons' and de Lavallade's wit and charm, the in-drag joke of Redux is not as funny as that of the original Two, although its musical combination of Donna Summer and Antonio Vivaldi is still hilarious. That red dress just didn't quite fit the magnificent Mr. Solomons.
Battleworks also brought back the sharply funny 2005 work Promenade, which the company had performed on the same stage last October, infusing it with an even more audacious energy. Its antics are set to a rhythmic score by John Mackey, and its mad combination of 19th century forms with 20th century adolescent angst and 21st century hiphop flips and smackdowns is well worth another viewing. Marlena Wolfe danced the solo Ella, kinetically "scatting" to Ella Fitzgerald singing "Air Mail Special." This dance, very similar to the earlier work Takedeme, indicates Battle's ongoing interest in physically manifesting jazz music.
The program concludes with a new, darker, work by Battle. Reel Time, set to music by John King, is full of daring and danger. The costumes — wide-legged black bodysuits blazoned with fluorescent tape — reminded me of firemen's uniforms, and the smoke rolling onto the stage did nothing to contradict that interpretation. I may have just had war and treachery on the brain, having just been listening to Seymour Hersh talk about the United States' present covert operations in Iran, but as the dancers whipped through their architectural patterning, every time a body went flying through the air to crash to the floor, or to be improbably caught and swung to safety, I thought of the Twin Towers and 9/11 and the continuous looping video of that day. But perhaps the piece is about the incendiary nature of art-making: art's shocking newness and its exhaustive repetitions, and the inherent dangers of dancing. Whatever the underlying ideas may be, Reel Time makes your blood race and your mind work, and you cannot turn your gaze away.
Note: This program continues at 8:00 p.m. on July 1st and 2nd. See our calendar for details.