Keith Johnson/Dancers & Nugent Dance. At Center Stage
Theater, Saturday, February 10.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Keith_Johnson_Dancers_Nugent_Dance.jpgWith rain pummeling the tiled patio
outside Center Stage Theater, those who showed up early for
Stephanie Nugent and Keith Johnson’s show were allowed to duck
straight inside the black box while the dancers were still warming
up onstage. While new arrivals rustled their umbrellas and adjusted
their coats on the backs of their seats, Nugent Dance performers
Jeremy Hale and Shel Wagner Rasch began a contact improv session.
The two performed their impromptu duet only slightly
self-consciously to the pre-show Phil Collins soundtrack, and their
casual yet focused play drew attention all the more because it was
off-the-cuff, a performance unframed by the usual formalities.

The first three pieces in the evening’s program were Johnson’s
work, but with greater variation in tone than usual for the Long
Beach-based choreographer. In the trio “Outside Looking Up
(Still)/Blueprint for a Goodbye,” there was plenty of Johnson’s
signature style: aggressive attack, an emphasis on action/reaction,
strong geometries, and architectural structures. There was also
something tender and raw, most notably in the passage where Billie
Holiday’s warbling voice emanated from a transistor radio strapped
across Rogelio Lopez Garcia’s chest.

“I Dream a Highway” was Johnson’s poignant exploration of
stoicism and longing. Sepia light and a twangy Midwestern lullaby
set the tone; Stephanie Nugent and Lopez Garcia began in completely
isolated spaces, approached one another tentatively, and then
dropped quick and deep into the comfort of human tenderness. Nugent
appeared again in Johnson’s haunting solo, “The Last Sliver of
Sunlight,” where she thrashed and writhed, erupted and cowered, and
darkness seemed to engulf her. Coming at the end of the evening,
Nugent’s quintet, “Frame/Reframe,” took its own title as a
directive. Their backs to the audience, the dancers shifted
formation again and again in a literal framing and reframing of the
space. Then things got a little more abstract. Louie Cornejo
entered with a bullhorn and began to speak, but soon the horn was
taken from his hands and held so high that he had to jump
repeatedly in order to continue. Wagner Rasch delivered a diatribe
about the color pink while being swung between two men like a rag

Like much of Nugent’s work, “Frame/Reframe” was at once
impressionistic and postmodern. In the process of exposing the
artifice of theater and indeed the fragility of all our frames, she
somehow achieved true lyricism.


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