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The Arthropologist

Dancers from The Met, HSPVA & Ad Deum face the elements in high-flying action

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Larry Keigwin sets Air on The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Photo by Bob Doyle/Runaway Productions LLC
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Ashley Browne and Andy Cook in Larry Keigwin's Air Photo by Tom Caravaglia
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HSPVA dance students in Larry Keigwin's "Fire" section of Elements Photo by Jann Whaley
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Shizu Yasuda of Ad Deum Dance Company Photo by Kinjo Yonemoto
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Houston Met Dance Company in To the line...a red carpet dance by Julie Fox Piece Photo by Bob Doyle/Runaway Productions LLC
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Larry Keigwin Photo by Bob Doyle/Runaway Productions LLC
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Larry Keigwin Photo by Bob Doyle/Runaway Productions LLC
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There's something in the air. Wait a minute, it's a dancer, Marlana Doyle, of The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company to be exact, soaring toward the ceiling of The Met's quaint museum district studio.

Lifted by her company mates, Doyle grins as she goes, while the Fifth Dimension's upbeat tune Up, Up and Away pulses in the background. So goes the opening passages of Larry Keigwin's "Air" section of Elements, a full evening length work premiered by Keigwin + Company in 2008.

Houston dance is going elemental. The Met shows off Keigwin's airy dance on their show 11-11-11 at Wortham Center Friday in a concert that also includes work by Salim Galuwoos, Kiki Lucas, jhon r. stronks, Julie Fox, Kiesha Lalama White and Pattie Obey.

"Fire," another section from Keigwin's Elements, will be performed by the dance students of HSPVA on Nov. 17 and 18. If only we could have arranged for two more companies to perform "Water," and "Earth."

I may not have been that lucky but, just across town, Ad Deum Dance Company dives into the elements as well with Body, Spirit and Soul: The Trinity of Dance at Barnevelder on Saturday and Sunday.

Frequent flyer

"Do you know the secret of flying," asks Keigwin, while working with The Met's eager dancers. "It's all in the chin."

The Met looks at home in Keigwin's relentessly paced choreography and Doyle sparkles in her airline attendant routine. I had no idea she was such a comedienne, either. Leave it to Keigwin to find material in those confusing hand waving gestures that are supposed to point us to the exits in case of a water landing.

 Keigwin's dance capitalizes on the optimism of  jet travel. Things were really looking up in the post-war boom of the 1950s, including the miracle of everyday airplane travel. Keigwin addresses the Pan Am can-do stewardess era with equal parts wit and wonder.

 Keigwin's dance capitalizes on the optimism of  jet travel. Things were really looking up in the post-war boom of the 1950s, including the miracle of everyday airplane travel. Keigwin addresses the Pan Am can-do stewardess era with equal parts wit and wonder.

Did I mention that the dancers drag around adorable little rolling suitcases?

The choreographer brings us to a more romantic place later in the work with Perry Como's Catch a Falling Star. The end, set to Philip Glass' Channels and Winds, is a no holds barred exploration of  pure energy.

Watching The Met go through Keigwin's athletic paces, I can literally feel the wind brushing by me. "The dance connects to the absolute joy of moving," says Keigwin. "And, they are doing a great job with the piece."

Keigwin is an internationally known choreographer with an impressive dance resume. He just finished performing at the Guggenheim and he's setting a new work on the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Named "Mr.-I-can-do-anything" by The New York Times, Keigwin has indeed done it all. From theater to fashion to ballet, he is one chameleon dance guy

To find out how a small Houston dance company managed to get Keigwin here, we have to go back to our flying dancer, Doyle. The perky blonde is not only one of the city's leading contemporary dancers and The Met's company manager, but also a mover and shaker on the national dance scene. Who else here can call Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's new artistic director) a buddy?

In addition to Keigwin, The Met has performed works by Battle as well other noteworthy choreographers. Doyle has never let the size of her operation get in the way of her wish list of choreographers. She's a go-getter on stage and in person. And now, she can add flying to her resume.

Fire it up

HSPVA's students are old pros at Keigwin's high-octane choreography. They also perform his speedy romp, Caffeinated.

"It was awesome, and he was great working with the dancers," says LuAnne Carter, chair of HSPVA's dance department. "We performed it for several conventions and our Young Audiences' show, and it's always a hit. Three months later, I saw his company perform Caffeinated at The Joyce, in fact, one of our graduates was performing with him that night. It was a great professional/high school comparison for us."

 If it seems impressive that a performing arts high school is performing a dance by one of the nation's leading dance makers, that's just how HSPVA rolls. The school brings in four to six out-of-town choreographers each year to work with their top dancers.

 Like "Air," "Fire" is full of those lightening fast Keigwin-isms. "Fire is spicey and Texas hot in so many ways," says Carter. "From Larry's eclectic movement, along with the variety of music he  uses, the audience leaves pondering what kind of fire they deal with in their everyday lives." 

Keigwin proved an ideal match. "Larry is very positive, upbeat, but concise and specific," says Carter. "He is open to ideas but has a definite look that he wants to follow."

If it seems impressive that a performing arts high school is performing a dance by one of the nation's leading dance makers, that's just how HSPVA rolls. The school brings in four to six out-of town choreographers each year to work with their top dancers. HSPVA's students have gone on to study at Juilliard, Boston Conservatory, Point Park and other top dance programs.

Spiritual Storms

Randall Flinn, Houston's spiritual dance man, has a different take on the elements.

 Dippel found turbulent weather as a source for her work. "The dancers splash in water, create a tornado effect, show the still and calm before a storm hits. It finally finishes with the wind dying and calmness returning."  

"Body, Soul and Spirit –The Trinity of Dance explores the wholeness of the dancer’s being and how each facet of their life synergizes through that connection and heightens their artistry. Just as the elements of fire, water, wind and earth work in union to bring life into our world – so it is with the Trinity of dance," muses Flinn, Ad Deum's artistic director.

"The body could be compared to the earth, the soul to the fire of mind, will and emotions and the spirit to the wind that resides deep within. The dancers dig deep to unite the natural to the human elements."

Choreographer and Revolve Dance Company co-artistic director Dawn Dippel set Storm on the troupe. The flame-haired dancer embodies the elements completely; she moves as fluidly as liquid and air, but then put her in a pair of tap shoes and she will burn up the earth, like she did last weekend in the Revolve concert.

Dippel found turbulent weather as a source for her work. "I was inspired by the music of the Yoshida Brothers. The song pulls in a lot of unique sounds, rhythms, builds and breaks," says Dippel. "The dancers splash in water, create a tornado effect, show the still and calm before a storm hits. It finally finishes with the wind dying and calmness returning." 

It looks like I'm not the only dance lover who stayed up all night to watch Hurricane Ike spin the world. What better teacher than the natural world to show us how to move? 

Get a taste of The Elements performed by Keigwin + Company

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