Keith Johnson/Dancers

Performance Review by Benn Widdey

kjohnson_performance.jpgKeith Johnson/Dancers floated into the Diavolo Space in the Brewery Arts Complex in Los Angeles last weekend (September 14-15, 2007) to present Girl Falling Towards The Sky and two other works from their repertory.

Walking into the theater, I was greeted by seven traffic cones hanging upside down over the stage (set design by Rogelio Lopez Garcia). Brink, the evening’s premiere, set the company’s six dancers capably cavorting across the space with stretched arms swinging, long legs extending, upper torsos tilting and heads circling over small jumps. Dressed in warm up pants and jackets and set against a spare tempered piano score by George Crumb and Stephen Parkinson, fits and starts of dancing were connected by full out running through every corner of the space. At one point, the three men and women seemed to be creating a narrative line as they passed something invisible from one dancer’s hand to the next. But this beguiling story quickly faded into the quiet calmness of the work. With a cushioned landing on every aerial moment, the performers gamboled in pairs and small groups (teams?). For a short time, different performers removed the top layer of their costume to dance alone in white close-fitting tank tops and briefs. Then they got dressed and re-joined the squad.

Using a similar, yet pared-down movement vocabulary highlighted by arm and hand gestures and a country-western/folk ballad sung by Gillian Welch, Marcos Duran and Brad Garner stood in opposite corners of the stage and mirrored each other’s movements. I Dream A Highway began with the two tall men in street clothes dancing without acknowledging each other’s presence. Soon, however, the pair came toward the center to wrap around and gently lift and lower the other. Once connected, the duo slid along the floor toward and away from the lights in the downstage corners. Originally created on a male/female cast, I couldn’t avoid seeing “Brokeback Mountain” on this night’s cast. A touching love duet.

Girl Falling Towards The Sky brought the red-clad company and four dancers/technicians in black into a smiling community of happy dancers. Holding hands to form large six person circles, the work was filled with skips and light jumps to piano and vocal music by Belgian composer Wim Mertens. The techies came on to lay a changing rectangle of blue flooring upon which all the big dancing was periodically confined. These floor-movers (students of Johnson’s at Cal State Long Beach?) also brought portable fans to aim at the dancers on the blue “skies.” Unfortunately, though, the costumes by Liz Pelster had only a small amount of fabric loose enough to demonstrate the effect of the fans. Still, the breeze felt good in the warm theater.

There is a nice kinetic quality in Johnson’s work, which is, perhaps, a reflection of his personal movement history with Bill T. Jones, Creach/Koester and Doug Varone. Everything lands softly and ripples out from the core. It looks both weighted and light, and as if it feels good to do; organic, healthy. Still, there was a certain sameness in all the energy. Maybe there could be more . . . next time.

Along with the two men previously named, the able dancers in the company include Bahareh Ebrahimzadeh, Rogelio Lopez Garcia, Jennifer Parra and Nikki Zialcita. Lighting was designed by Andrea Halloway.

(Photo by Patrick van Osta; photo shown is not from this performance)

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