Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another Bolero, Another 10

This appeared on Edhat yesterday as a thank you for the free tickets, but I figured it belonged here, too.

Larry Keigwin + Company, Bolero Santa Barbara

Hands down, hands are crucial to the work Larry Keigwin choreographs, as was amply evident during the four piece performance his troupe (and a wonderful bunch of locals, but more on that in a bit) presented on Friday at the Lobero. Take one repeated bit the company made in the piece "Wind," set to a soaring Philip Glass soundtrack - often while circling, the dancers would bring their arms up from hips, bringing their palms together in front of their faces, as if taking off, as if supplicants in church. On a wing in a prayer literalized, you could say.

But of course I've zoomed in a bit too quickly to give an overall sense of this wonderful, wide-ranging night of movement. As usual (Keigwin has been a frequent visitor to town, thanks to Dianne Vapnek and Summerdance, now DANCEworks), the work was both poignant and playful, as anything involving humans on the move should be. The opening, "Air" (perhaps as in "as light as") had the dancers in natty flight attendant costumes, turning the usual safety instruction pantomime into something clever, all set to the Fifth Dimension singing "Up, Up and Away." (And while it's hard during such a number not to think of Bob Fosse's "Take Off with Us" from All that Jazz, the Keigwin piece stayed nice and far from naughty.) The second movement of "Air," a coy duet danced by Keigwin himself with Matthew Baker, popped clichés of love (even going so far as to include balloons), while still luxuriating in the danceability of a croonerly gem like Perry Como's version of "Catch a Falling Star."

"Triptych" was another piece fascinated with arms and hands, limbs swinging often in a mechanical way, dancers set in lockstep (what's the arm equivalent of lockstep?). At times a line of four or five would cut across the stage, the last dancer briefly breaking out of the routine, only to jump back in before leaving the stage. The piece seemed to tease the tension between being one with the group versus the need for being an individual, the comfort of the many versus the risk of going it solo.

The darkest piece of the night was a preview of "Exit," the work the company has been developing during their Santa Barbara residency. Performed on the bare stage with stark lighting, dancers often were up against the wall itself - a piece about limits, as if to suggest all dance is, since it's always about flesh. Composer Chris Lancaster played his original music on electric cello live, and its occasional grating was cleverly mimicked when one dancer would draw his hand along the wall, fingernails on the performance's chalkboard. It will be fascinating to see where the work-in-progress "Exit" ends up.

The evening ended on a much more joyous note, with "Bolero Santa Barbara," featuring 50 Santa Barbarans of all shapes, ages, and dance ability (plus one local dog Edhat needs to feature soon). Opening with the performers aptly moving from the aisles/audience onto the stage, it reveled in Santa Barbara as 3-D postcard - bathing suits, beach scenes (with surfing on towels across the stage), Trader Joe's bags, bikes, even a few bare bottoms (provided by the professional dancers - New York sassiness invading our poor provincial town). That it was done so lovingly took away any of the possible sting of condescension, and that the performers were clearly having the times of their lives added to the joy. For what is dance, after all, but celebration, and to make that celebration Santa Barbara-specific…well, that can only be a great time.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Cows that Agriculture Won't Allow

If you started with the videos, there's really no point in reading what I've got to say, is there. For while this performance wasn't from Yo La Tengo's concert last night at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, it certainly is close enough to the version essayed yesterday to give you the full meaty flavor of what was a typically terrific show from the veteran outfit. "More Stars than There Are in Heaven" is probably my favorite track from their most recent CD, the tongue-in-cheekily named Popular Songs, with its lovely noisy wanting-keening, so it was wonderful for it to get such a mind-blowing, Ira-bending workout. Not that those of us who have been following the band for years expect any less--even back in the early mid 1980 days when 10 people might show up for a show and a peeved Kaplan would merely feedback solo for a half hour, the mild-mannered guitar hero was always in the making. Here, though, such control of that chaos. Such beauty out of noise. If only it were a land we could walk hand-in-hand in. (How fitting it can't be contained in one video.)

For it has to be said, Kaplan is a man possessed in concert. For not only was there this work out, and the set-ending opus that the magisterial instrumental "I Heard You Looking" became, but there was his all out attack on the keyboards for "Sudden Organ," too, blatty-blasts punctuating the song as he'd seemingly randomly fall onto his right elbow. In many ways while they performed much of the latest disc, the heart of this live set was Painful, a hint both of when the band came together with not just alternately but often simultaneously supple and muscular bassist James McNew, but a world view: Beauty hurts, it has to--it teaches us how much is ugly then it ups and leaves.

Take McNew's prime turn at the mic (well, except for the encore's "Ant Music," just as fun as you would have hoped) "Stockholm Syndrome." I'm far from the first person to point out its Neil Young-ish folk rock charms, but just as you get used to the gentle ride, Kaplan jumps in with a guitar solo that makes the tune a mad mash-up: if it were Disneyland, it would be like getting ripped from the carousel, and you're not even on one of the up-and-down horses, and ending up on Tower of Terror, everything about you free-fall guitar.

Alas, I don't mean to ignore Georgia Hubley, whose drumming keeps her wildman husband's ways pinned tight to the songs. How steady she is, mallets-aswinging. How unwilling she seems to want to step into the spotlight, even during a rousing encore version of "Emulsified" when she was called on to take a drum solo. (Perhaps, though, it was Kaplan saying, "take it my little lady," that kept her laughing, instead of drumming crazy.) And then, despite the crowd's noisy rumble (stupid crowd), she also got to sing "Hanky Panky Nohow," that gorgeous John Cale lullabye of sorts, and totally make it her own.

Forget about Ant Music. Let's hear it for YLT Music.

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