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IMPRESSIONS: Cameron McKinney's Kizuna Dance at Arts on Site

IMPRESSIONS: Cameron McKinney's Kizuna Dance at Arts on Site

By Catherine Tharin, Guest Contributor

Published on April 30, 2021
Photo by Julia Discenza

March 19, 2021  at 6:30 p.m.

Performance: Rohan Bhargava, Mallory Galarza, Isaac Martin Lerner, Malena Maust, Cameron McKinney, Cayla Mae Simpson

Music: Koibito: Biosphere, Moritz Eggert, Haxan Cloak, Ryoji Ikeda, Yuzu, Vladislav Delay, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sam Cooke; Rebirth: Loscil, Yoshinao Nakada, Takashi Yoshimatsu; E.X.P.L.O.D.E.: Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Toshio Hosokawa


Movements fold and unfold, spiral, and cross body parts through body parts. Momentum from floor to standing and back again, punctuated by brief, exhilarating lofts, require technical prowess, strength, and grace. Cameron McKinney's developing Nagare technique, Japanese for 'flow,' combines street dance and floorwork with inflections of capoeira, bookended by contemporary dance. Nagare technique delivers a rollicking audience experience. Yet despite the attractiveness of Kizuna Dance, a committed six-member company, a sameness runs through the three excerpts performed at the welcoming Arts on Site venue.

Kizuna Dance (Kizuna means 'connections between people') presents dances through the lens of Japanese language and culture. McKinney's accomplished composer, painter, and animator collaborators are primarily Japanese. These artists express emotional depth, thereby lending credence to McKinney's still evolving dance-making.

Against a brick wall, Cameron McKinney is low to the floor, balancing on the ball of one foot
Cameron McKinney in Kizuna Dance's E.X.P.L.O.D.E.;  Photo by Julia Discenza

E.X.P.L.O.D.E. opens with McKinney executing sinuous movement with his back to the audience. Turning around, he soon drops to his knees. With his hands resting on his thighs, he opens his palms and commands our attention. What does this gesture portend?

The solo follows Tetsuo, the main character from the animated film AKIRA, who destroys everything he loves. Interrupted by several refrains on the knees, roiling movement defines the dance. With each pause, the hands express private, accumulating gestures. At times the character curls himself into a fetal position while other times the character aggressively lopes like a hunted animal. This physical solo shows McKinney at his most connected to the choreography. The accent and syncopation, when to hold back and when to push forward, as well as easeful execution, signifies McKinney the most arresting mover of the company.

A man lifts a woman as one of her legs stretches to the ceiling and the other bends to the floor
Cayla Mae Simpson and Isaac Martin Lerner in Kizuna Dance's Rebirth; Photo by Julia Discenza

Rebirth eulogizes the people of Japan whose lives were destroyed by the devastating Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. Inspired by Manabu Ikeda's painting of the same title (spring flowers amid sly, meticulous renditions of detritus), the dance portrays the hope of reawakening. Takashi Yoshimatsu's sweet and buoyant composition accompanies moments of stillness and tenderness. In this dance, there is a willingness to arrest time and sense inner-workings. However, does the artistry of the dance match the sophisticated artistry of the collaborators? 

Camaraderie develops between two women. Mallory Galarza pulls Malena Maust off the floor after Maust smoothly pedals backward, her elbows bent, her lower arms and hands extended upward to indicate brokenness. Offering comfort, Galarza wraps her leg and body around the back of Maust. Propelled on and off stage, Cayla Mae Simpson, Isaac Martin Lerner, and Maust catch and support Galarza when she free falls. Each looks out for the other.

Malena Maust and Mallory Galarza lift one leg backward, hooked in attitude with their arms low and casual
Malena Maust and Mallory Galarza in Kizuna Dance's Rebirth; Photo by Julia Discenza

The quartet coalesces and disperses, reminiscent of choreographer Doug Varone's spilling groups and variegated flocking of dancers (McKinney was one of 10 choreographers selected for a cohort directed by Varone). Solos, duets, trios, and quartets later, the excerpt concludes with Simpson and Lerner executing little jumps, turns, and stumbles, sometimes in their own universes and sometimes together.

Translated from the Japanese, Koibito, or 'lover' (a droll title given the subject matter), initially follows the bodily jerks and jolts of Lerner, a salaryman, in reaction to a voice representing the company that controls him. Later, he grasps Rohan Bhargava's hand in an exaggerated slow-motion handshake. They separate, and McKinney joins. The trio executes Nagare phrases before splintering into a duet that frames a revolving soloist frantic to break free of his soul-numbing job. Ultimately, Lerner, by hurling his body, pushes through the white-collar world that binds him.

Two kneeling men in white dress shirts and ties hook arms around each other
Rohan Bhargava and Isaac Martin Lerner in Kizuna Dance's Koibito; Photo by Julia Discenza

Throughout these three excerpts, a bout of constant motion is the likely choice. The phrasing of go, go, go, long pause, repeat throws a predictable veneer over the excerpts. This mix-and-match sensibility does not necessarily further the premise of each dance. Instead, it leaves one wishing for a break from the formula; to push beyond the expected and to clearly choose, define, and develop movement that furthers the idea of that particular dance. When the choreographic need for Nagare's heightened sensibility subsides, contemporary dance over. This bifurcation identifies Nagare as the more original of McKinney's two primary movement expressions.

McKinney bravely and open-heartedly tackles life's big themes: loss, frustration, empathy, and power. He engages his company to dance urgently but the movement choices communicating tension and ferocity, as befits some of his themes, are underdeveloped. There are hints of delicacy and ardor, befitting other topics, that could be further mined. The capable McKinney is developing his craft, and with encouragement, support, and patience, fortitude should get him there.


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