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Donald Rosenberg  |  September 29, 2010

Choreographer Keigwin Brings Community Members Onstage

Keigwin + Company members Ashley Browne, Matthew Baker and Ryoji Sasamoto dance Larry Keigwin's "Triptych," which will be part of the New York contemporary dance company's program Saturday at Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall.

Ravel's "Bolero" has been haunting the world since 1928, when the French composer's orchestral crescendo was first danced at the Paris Opera. Early in the 21st century, the piece began to haunt Larry Keigwin.

The New York choreographer was listening to a recording of "Bolero" when he realized he might capture it in movement with his troupe, Keigwin + Company, and a stageful of guests.

"It's 15 minutes with climaxes at the end," he remembers thinking. "So I thought, 'maybe a large amount of people.' What can compete with that music?"

Keigwin evidently found a good answer. The first result of his explosive exploration was "Bolero NYC," which squeezed 50 performers onto the stage at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. It soon became a big hit at the Joyce Theatre in New York using the idea of urban pedestrians as the unifying theme.

Since then, Keigwin has tailored his exuberant and whimsical "Bolero" for other cities and regions, devising "Bolero Colorado" (Denver), "Bolero Santa Barbara" and "Bolero Suburbia" (White Plains, N.Y.).

And now comes "Bolero Akron," which the eight dancers of Keigwin + Company and dozens of Akron-area residents will perform Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall on a program featuring other Keigwin works.

Keigwin, whose dance career has taken him from MTV to the Metropolitan Opera, relishes the chance to get to know and portray various communities through his "Bolero" creations.

"I try and find some hook," Keigwin said during an interview early in the rehearsal period last week in Akron. "The movement vocabulary hopefully is inspired by the location. I try to keep the creative process interesting."

In Colorado, the piece embraced such local themes as sustainability, hiking and climbing. Surf, sun and the solstice with the cast in bathing suits were the hooks in Santa Barbara.

The Akron version will include references to tires, roller derbys, inventors and sports, with movement inspired by the rock group Divo and '80s music videos.

At the open audition last week at the University of Akron, 44 people showed up to try out for Keigwin, who was so taken with the enthusiastic group that he invited everyone to take part.

"It's quite a challenge for someone who has absolutely no dance background," said Marci Paolucci, an actress. "But they said no dance experience was necessary."

The participants comprise young people and "six or seven of us who are age 50-plus," said Paolucci.

One of the youngest is an actual dancer, 10-year-old Daniel Birchfield, who studies at the University of Akron's Dance Institute. His mother, Sandra Bolt-Birchfield, is also taking part.

"Larry is working to create a celebration of exactly the kinds of things Daniel and I enjoy about Akron," said Bolt-Birchfield, a registered nurse who minored in dance at Akron U. "So when someone watches this dance they'll recognize all of those wonderful opportunities that have built and made Akron."

Keigwin's describes his "Bolero" endeavors as "orchestrating human traffic. Each group is different." Some of the pieces in the dance puzzle show up in every version, though the choreographer said he makes sure that the distinctive personality of each community comes through.

He expects his next version will be a video, "Bolero 62," which Keigwin plans to set in the pool of a retirement community. It will have hints of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams films, with aerobics and water balloons providing local color.

"It's endless!" said Keigwin of the "Bolero" possibilities. "Oh, my God 'Bolero Bollywood,' 'Bolero Luau.' Of course, we're picking places we want to go."

Keigwin, a native of Wading River, Long Island, has been going places through dance since he was 16, when he became a regular on "Club MTV." He freelanced in many companies until he created his own in 2003.

Keigwin + Company, which is admired for energetic and uproarious artistry, spends up to 30 weeks a year rehearsing, performing and teaching. Its appearance in Akron is part of a residency that includes classes at Akron U and a master class in Cleveland.

In addition to "Bolero Akron," the company Saturday will dance four Keigwin works: "Love Songs," a series of duets for three couples set to pop songs; "Air" and "Wind," which portrays the elements to music by Jim Webb and Philip Glass; and "Triptych," an abstract work danced to a score by Jonathan Melville Pratt.

Keigwin calls his dance aesthetic "very athletic, with a theatrical sensibility of wit, style and heart. Sometimes I think choreography is just a process of collecting and editing.

"In my own company, the canvas is very blank. We do what we want to do."

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