Harkness Dance Festival: Excerpt from Twin, Old-Fashioned, Only If You Mean It, Salty Dog, Sinfonia (Excerpt from The Principles of Uncertainty), Rockefellers
New York, 92nd Street Y
2 March 2018
As part of the 92nd Street Y’s annual Harkness Dance Festival, John Heginbotham’s company performed a brief, manageable program of solos and duets on Friday, including several New York premieres.
Heginbotham is almost as well known for his own company, founded in 2011, as for his 14-years with the Mark Morris Dance Group. A sense of whimsy permeates much of Heginbotham’s work, and he is at his best when working in this vein.
One of the highlights of the evening was the New York premiere of Old-Fashioned. A duet between the tall Heginbotham and the tiny Macy Sullivan, Old-Fashioned is a charming pas de deux set to piano music by Dana Suesse. Composed in the 1940s, Suesse’s music is mostly lighthearted, and has a touch of of the vintage cinematic about it. Meanwhile Heginbotham and Sullivan are an awkward pairing, not just physically but choreographically. It is as if the children from Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” grew up on their lush island with only each other for company, and finally decided to dance. It doesn’t hurt that Heginbotham is in a burgundy corduroy blazer and looks like a slightly disheveled Anderson character.
There is a winning sense of naïveté and childlike discovery in Heginbotham’s choreography. Sullivan often “leads” the dancing, and Heginbotham adds flamboyant, earnest swishes of exaggerated arm movements. A simple joyousness permeates this duet. While many choreographers indulge in movement for movement’s sake, Heginbotham communicates the innocent, inner joy of movement itself, and the haphazard, happy discoveries that can come from it, like that of a child delighting in wiggling its toes.
Using some tunes by Heitor Villa-Lobos played on accordion, Only If You Mean It sees Lindsey Jones and Sullivan tease each other in a sort of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ game. It starts with each of them dancing the same steps a count apart. How they avoid falling in sync is anyone’s guess. Their visages are also a little tense, and wary. Initially it’s a little tough on the eye, like looking at a 3D screen without the glasses. By the end Sullivan has danced a stage-eating solo, and they are moving as one, occasionally partnering each other, and flinging limbs with abandon, their mood altered, from a place of skepticism to one of newfound friendship.
Rockefellers is a lightly futuristic duet set to excerpts from Raymond Scott’s mid-century experiments in electronic music. Scott, a now little known pioneer with a reputation as a bit of a mad scientist, worked with the likes of Bob Moog, Jim Henson, and Motown’s Berry Gordy, and some of his quirky compositions were finally compiled and released in 2000.
John Eirich and Jones are the space-age couple: both wearing accessories that look as if they are made of tin foil – he a tie, she a bow on her poofy pink cocktail dress. The couple allude to automated, de-personalized aspects of life; in one sequence Jones represents a blow-up doll turned dancing partner. But most of Rockefellers references a former era, when dancing was a social must, the way to meet people, to court, one of the only ways in which to meet or relate to members of the opposite sex. Heginbotham pairs what was once considered futuristic music with what we now consider old-fashioned dancing. Some of Scott’s music sounds computerized, but a lot is of its time. Scott’s generation thought we would be in flying cars by now, and instead we are only on stage four of automated vehicles, and the immediacy of communication technology is eroding our human connection. Rockefellers is a humbling send-up of how erroneous our sense of the future can be.
Other works on the program included a quiet pas de deux from Sinfonia (his collaboration with Maira Kalman), and Salty Dog, a solo danced by Heginbotham and set to Satie’s “Son Binocle.” Heginbotham’s solo savors the simple pleasures from simple movements, and he exits the stage with slow, wistful swaying from side to side, his arms embracing an invisible, absent partner.