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Keigwin's eccentricities hit, and miss, their mark

Keigwin + Company
At: Zero Arrow Theatre, Friday

CAMBRIDGE -- Larry Keigwin's high-octane dances are a curious mix of the campy and the sublime -- curious, that is, in both senses of the word. With their roots as much in pop culture as modern dance, his works smack quirky movements together as they drill down to seek hot, elusive truths.

Some pull off the quest better than others. Of the dances CrashArts presented on Friday, ''Mattress Suite" and ''Female Portraits" -- brimming with nuance and dry humor -- strike home. But Keigwin's world premiere (the title's unprintable) hits you over the head with its gender-stereotype symbolism. And his relentless ''Natural Selection" lacks focus.

The premiere, a quintet set to Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, means to comment on the cliché of men as superheroes and women as Playboy playmates -- folks led not by their hearts but by their privates. But the piece is too blatant for the irony to resonate. It's full of he-man poses and rolling pelvises. Instead of Keigwin's tongue being planted in his cheek, it lolls seductively in caricatures.

Not so ''Mattress Suite." A quasi-narrative for a large mattress and the people it beds (and separates), it comprises four vignettes jam-packed with wisdom and wit.

To a Scarlatti aria, Nicole Wolcott and Keigwin play a couple at sea in the tender, angry ''Straight Duet." They try to connect but conjugally can't because of certain sexual truths. The piece is a marvel of permutations of body and soul. In ''Sunshine," to Bill Withers, Keigwin ponders his now-solo state, transmuting deliberate yet throwaway gestures into full-body compositions. ''Three Ways," to Guiseppe Verdi, is a coltish menage a trois. The men tangle like kids in a game of Dr. Mixup, spooning in unison and falling like dominos, then ousting one of the group. ''At Last" tells a bedtime story: Wolcott, up against the wall (the mattress), pedals in place and flips on her hands to run upside-down. Finally, men flip the mattress, and she leaps aloft, triumphant in her aloneness.

''Female Portraits" is a series of three (auto)biographical solos for women as adolescents. Ying-Ying Shiau flings her abundant hair and gnaws at her toes. She's a tornado landing in awkward, angular drifts. Yet beneath the angst breathes hope: Her arms cross over her face, then open, like blinds letting in light. In her segment, Wolcott flicks between the bravado of a rock star and the vulnerability of a girl. Her clasped hands push through her legs at the crotch -- it's a now-hesitant, now-rigorous awakening. Liz Riga's portrait is a study of revelation: As she attempts lip-synching to Annie Lennox, she flicks fingers open and shut like blinkers in the night.

The least coherent dance, ''Natural Selection," is set to a driving Michael Gordon score. Ostensibly about the Darwinian struggle, it's a compendium of raw, sweaty phrases: The seven dancers crawl, with a leg rond de jambing down low; cartwheel over torsos; back-bend into tunnels. In one startling moment, Shiau sprints up the backs of the others and runs across the back wall. Yet the dance never develops: It reads more like a string of movement experiments than a world unto itself.

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