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Kerry Clawson  |  October 05, 2010

Unique Dance Reflects Akron

Who knew a single tire rolling across the E.J. Thomas Hall stage could be so funny?

Things got even more comical when a second lone tire traveled by and more started to crisscross, followed by a whole mishmash of tires thrown onstage in the world premiere of Bolero Akron Saturday night.

The uniquely Akron dance, which featured 65 local volunteers, was created by Keigwin and Company of New York to reflect the flavor of our city and its people. The backdrop was Ravel's hypnotically repetitive, swelling Bolero.

The tire prop was a heavily used Akron icon in this dance, paying homage to the industry that for many years shaped this city. But the people of varied ages, shapes, sizes and races who wore them around their hips, hopped through them and executed cool moves on top of them are what brought sheer joy to the experience.

This was choreographer Larry Keigwin's gift to Akron. Aided by assistant choreographer Nicole Wolcott, the dance was built on-the-spot over 12 days at Guzzetta Hall at the University of Akron. It's the fifth time Keigwin has built a city-centric dance with local volunteers, beginning with New York City and spreading to Denver, Santa Barbara, and Purchase, N.Y.

Thanks to co-commissioners DanceCleveland, the University of Akron Dance Program and E.J. Thomas Hall, our city had 15 minutes onstage to celebrate itself. This exact group of dancers will never come together to

perform this unique dance again, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the cast and audience.

Bolero Akron's athletic themes alluding to football, the marathon and dance competition made it clear we live in a sports-crazy town. But there was more.

Akron folks aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and you saw that come to life as the volunteer dancers artfully handled scores of old, dirty tires.

The motif of reinvention was ever present in Bolero Akron as these performers used the symbolic tire in new and different ways. As they gyrated on top of the tires or hopped through them in football-drill fashion, one got the feeling that these dancers were embracing Akron's industrial past while also moving forward. It could be seen as a subtle allusion to Akron's transition from the Rubber City to one focusing on the polymer and bioinnovation industries.

In a nod to the university, the Soap Box Derby and a celebration of diversity, Akron's best-known drag queen, Trixie Morgan (Gary Grether), burst through the backstage door in a glorious entrance as part of a massive pep rally. Flag-waving dancers in this flash mob segment of the dance rolled her out on an elevated platform, with Morgan, in full gown and regalia, waving a checkered flag.

Little girls in cheerleading and dance outfits ran through with blowup Goodyear blimps, and other youngsters frolicked or did flips amid the tires. Special kudos go to the animated Robert Grant in his Zippy kangaroo glasses and Valarie Moss with her exuberant flag-twirling solo that ended a swift segment of flag runs in honor of the Soap Box Derby.

Throughout Bolero Akron, the Keigwin and Company members were giving partners in the dance, serving as dance captains and directing traffic in a way that helped hold the performance together and also made them vital participants.

The world premiere couldn't have ended more perfectly than with bows to Whip It, by Akron's own Devo.

Leading up to this Akron love fest, Keigwin and Company performed a program of sexy, funny, witty dances. This hot young company was formed in 2003 by the 40-year-old Keigwin, whom Metro New York described as ''the premier choreographer of the MTV generation.''

Keigwin and his dancers have a bold sense of humor that became campy in the Fly segment of the dance Air, with a pilot and flight attendants dancing to the Muzak tune Up, Up and Away. The comical piece included rolling suitcases, a cheesy rendition of flight attendants' safety presentation, and plenty of soaring lifts.

All of the dances were choreographed by Keigwin, including the quirky male duet between him and Matthew Baker in Breeze, part of Air. It was followed by the beautifully whirling, freewheeling Wind, featuring the full company of eight dancing to Philip Glass' Channels and Winds.

Love Songs was an often humorous look at relationships, composed of six duets set to the pop music of Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Most memorable was the resistance and opposition between Keigwin and Wolcott to the song Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, where the couple enters with him pushing her head and exits with her pushing his chest as he walks backward. In I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You), Liz Riga was ferociously sexy as the femme fatale to Baker's needy love interest, who straddled her waist like a baby and held onto her leg as she dragged him off stage.

Triptych, inspired by a black and white photo triptych at a museum, was an aerodynamic dance that heavily featured the dancers' arms in long, linear motions that Keigwin likened to a metronome quality. The movements felt robotic as dancers walked and waved in unison, rotated their arms like helicopters, and ran in circular patterns.

The dancers themselves evoked black and white images, with stark lighting making their bodies look ultra-white in contrast to their black club-style leotards or shorts. The piece became poetic with all the barefoot dancers en pointe, their feet aflutter as they moved in quick, sweeping circular patterns.

Wrapping it all up, Bolero Akron was a delightfully celebratory finale to a cool, eclectic evening of dance. After nearly two weeks of hard work, sweat and collaboration, the event was one that Akron will always remember with pride.

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