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ISSUE 121 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 11/2/2007

Dancer Keith Johnson teaches, performs

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor

Friday, November 2, 2007

Los Angeles choreographer Keith Johnson and his Long Beach-based dance company treated the St. Olaf dance department to a residency last week. Johnson and his six dancers spent the week teaching master classes, taking classes and performing.

Johnson's movement history began with competitive gymnastics, from which he went on to dance with Ririe/Woodbury Dance Company, Bill T. Jones, Creach/Koester and Doug Varone. Currently, he teaches dance at the California State University at Long Beach.

The performance began with "Brink." Six traffic cones hung upside down from the ceiling over the sparsely-lit Studio 1 performance space. Then six dancers entered wearing colorful track suits.

Their solemn faces and jarring, straight and angular movement worked well with the electronic, sparse music. A series of duets and trios, with some intense partnering, ended in a segment of standing and walking in a grid-like pattern on extreme stage-left. A change in lighting took them all off-stage; one dancer proceeded to remove his tracksuit and enter the stage wearing a set of white undergear.

Four solos ensued, distinctly separate from the rest of the company watched from the side. The set of four solos was removed from the rest of the performance, an inner scene which ends with the continuation of the gird scene. The grid changed as a result of the solos. The dancers began to affect one another, creating stronger relationships with a repeated phrase of cause-and-effect moments, allowing the dancers to break out of the grid. The piece ends in this grid location, with a dynamic dipping pose into a fade-out.

The second piece was a duet between dancers Rogelio Lope Garcia and Nikki Zialcita, entitled "I Dream a Highway." Dressed in simple brown tones, styled slightly reminiscent of rustic pioneer clothing, they began on opposite diagonal sides of the stage, one facing the audience and one facing the back of the stage. Their movements began in unison, passionate motion that moved in and out of the floor.

The music, by Gillian Welch, was slow and had a folk-country twang, reinforcing the dance's emotional tone. Their unison movement continued for several minutes, amplifying the effect of their first contact, which broke the unison movement into faster, more disconnected motion. The most poignant part was a moment of stillness where Garcia laid on his side towards the back of the stage, while Zialcita rolled slowly towards him, the two ending in a soft, gentle embrace.

After a short intermission, the whole company emerged on stage for "Girl Falling Towards the Sky." Wearing red chiffon, the first section was an exuberant celebration. The dancers' dynamic skill with partnering came through beautifully, joyous faces accenting the wonderful expression of the music by Wim Merten. The primary locomotor for this piece was running; the dancers would run across the stage into a lift or a leaning contact with another dancer.

The second movement incorporated four St. Olaf dance students, who appeared in the piece as technicians/dancers, dancing some with the company and then moving a blue floor around the stage. The crux of the piece appeared in this movement, when the six dancers split off into two duets, energetically moving across the stage in unison with their partner.

The piece slowed down for the final movement, a duet between Garcia and the choreographer himself, Keith Johnson. Completely contained on the blue floor, they conveyed intimacy and breaking away, with Garcia catching Johnson as he fell towards the sky. The two captivated the audience with an intense hand connection, intensified by the contrast between violent, hard motion and gentle caresses. The piece surges forward here, like waves of emotion leading to a final breaking apart, a sudden dawn of understanding which enters their relationship and a satisfying conclusion to an evening of dance.

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