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IMPRESSIONS: Dance Heginbotham at the 92Y’s 2018 Harkness Dance Festival

IMPRESSIONS: Dance Heginbotham at the 92Y’s 2018 Harkness Dance Festival

Published on March 9, 2018
Photo: Julie Lemberger

March 2, 2018

Choreography: John Heginbotham: Twin (excerpt), Old-Fashioned, Only If You Mean It (excerpt from The Principles of Uncertainty), Sinfonia, Rockefellers) and Maile Okamura: (Salty Dog)

Performers: John Eirich, John Heginbotham, Lindsey Jones, Courtney Lopes, Macy Sullivan

Musician: Nathan Koci

Music: Aphex Twin, J.S. Bach, Erik Satie, Raymond Scott, Dana Suesse, Heitor Villa-Lobos


It’s only a few minutes into Dance Heginbotham’s excerpt from Twin when Lindsey Jones and Courtney Lodes dangle their tongues out of their mouths like two punch-drunk puppies. Against the conventional choreography of mirrored skitters and skips, this oddity reveals choreographer John Heginbotham’s sly wit, which he evolves over five duets and one solo as part of the 92Y’s 2018 Harkness Dance Festival.  

Heginbotham was a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group for fourteen years, and that pedigree manifests itself in Dance Heginbotham’s clarity of phrasing and execution. He and his dancers don’t move through space so much as imprint it with charging arabesques and loping leaps, their spines straight as a yardstick. During one moment in the spry Only If You Mean It, Jones and Macy Sullivan rocket into the air, cleaving their bodies into a five-pointed star — simple in conception, exceptional in consequence.

Two people throw their arms up in the air. They each bend their left leg in the air too with foot flexed.
Dance Heginbotham; Photo credit: © Julie Lemberger/www.julielemberger.com 

Like Morris, music preoccupies Heginbotham: its tonality, its cadences, its possibilities as a companion to and motivator of movement. What a partner, then, he’s found in one-man-band Nathan Koci, who plays hummable works for piano or accordion. Even when Koci takes a well-deserved break, the electronic selections maintain the show’s brisk, merry pace.

Heginbotham quotes freely from oldie-but-goodie dancehall forms. Performers twirl under each other’s arms, as if at a rollicking Swing club, and they waltz solo style, sweetly tripling their way across the floor. They flick their feet (Lindy Hop), smack their knees (Charleston), and mug like vaudevillian players. These references — dusted off and buffed to a high gloss — add conviviality. Dance, after all, is a social activity where the presence of one body eases the loneliness of another.

Two dancers do the twist facing one another. Their hands are flexed and they're barefoot. The woman's pink skirt cascades around her as she twists.
Dance Heginbotham; Photo credit: © Julie Lemberger/www.julielemberger.com 

Visual gags hopscotch through the evening. In Sinfonia (an excerpt from The Principles of Uncertainty), Lopes and John Eirich crest through gentle lifts behind the doorway to Buttenwieser Hall, literally framing the romantic interlude as a moving portrait. During Rockefellers, Eirich and Jones prance in profile with flexed feet and wrists — just a couple of hieroglyphics that have come to life. In my favorite, the droll Old-Fashioned, Heginbotham mimes spit shining Sullivan’s shoe, these two frenemies in the midst of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better shenanigans.

John Heginbotham stands with his leg outstreched. He holds onto it by a door handle that is sewn to the leg of his pant.
John Heginbotham; Photo credit: © Julie Lemberger/www.julielemberger.com 

Under the deadpan grins and knowing winks lurks sadness. Near the end, Heginbotham takes the stage for the sole solo, Salty Dog (choreography by Maile Okamura), a drawer handle fastened to his pant leg. Using this handle, he hoists his leg up for a promenade. With no partner off whom to play, the mood — his, mine, maybe everyone’s — slips to one of melancholia. Two is better than one, Heginbotham seems to be implying. It halves the effort and doubles the fun.


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