Cameron McKinney|Kizuna Dance 2016 Season Kickoff

The women of Kizuna Dance in "3 Poisons"

The women of Kizuna Dance in “Three Poisons”

Brooklyn, N.Y. “I wanted you to be close enough to see them sweat,” Cameron McKinney says to a smattering of chuckles from the small crowd assembled in the studio space at Williamsburg Movement & Arts Center. Those in attendance at Kizuna Dance’s 2016 Season Kickoff on February 21st got to see exactly that. The evening was an up-close and personal reintroduction of the company, placing the dancers close enough for audience members to reach out and touch in performance and letting them intermingle with attendees before, after, and even in-between excerpts. McKinney, the young group’s founder and artistic director, went on to comment that his approach to process and performance is,”more than about making moves: it’s about cultivating experience.” McKinney and his dancers went on to demonstrate this principle with a cool alacrity, though there was no shortage of interesting moves.

Rohan Bhargava and Brianna Dixon in "Foretoken"

Rohan Bhargava and Brianna Dixon in “Foretoken”

First up was a preview of Foretoken, McKinney’s most recent choreographic endeavor. Rohan Bhargava joined Brianna Dixon for a lighthearted duet that read as a contemporary dance version of the youthful flirtation one might expect to see in an old movie. Bhargava opens the movement with a giddy jump as though quite literally lovestruck. Despite being Kizuna’s newest company member, Bhargava already has a neat grasp on McKinney’s preferred smoothness in oscillating between tricky, street-style inspired floorwork and standing contemporary phrasework (a staple of Loft Technique), here with joyfully flung arms and floating jumps. Bhargava’s open-hearted earnestness brought out a sweetness in Dixon’s performance that was a first for me as a viewer; they matched each other in their ease of movement, though Dixon’s detail work with her hands was particularly eye-catching. When the song ends they meet in a run downstage, looking delighted to have a chance to catch their breath…only to have the same song start again, to which the pair shrugs with only a hint of exasperation before launching into the space once more. The excerpt ended with Bhargava catching Dixon’s hand and reeling her in, the pair smiling as they walked off intertwined to the rhythm of their panted breaths. I am very curious to see where this fits into Foretoken as a whole when the full work is premiered in September. The duet was a delightful surprise, maintaining McKinney’s signature physicality and movement technique while subverting my expectations of high intensity impact or sly, deadpan humor.

Reka Echerer, Chelsea Escher, and Cassidy Samelian in "3 Poisons"

Reka Echerer, Chelsea Escher, and Cassidy Samelian in “Three Poisons”

The ending of Three Poisons, the company’s signature work re-contextualizing the three sins of Buddhism through the lens of pop culture, took the space next. Chelsea Escher serves as a magnetic focal point as the other dancers attach to her and wander away to an academic-sounding explanation of nirvana. Brianna Dixon is once again a standout, this time in her subtlety in articulating a craving for touch as she inserts a hand through negative space created by an indifferent Escher and then attaches to her elbow, her side, her back to a soundtrack of stand-up comedy addressing love and relationships. The composition is exquisite, creating visual depth and laser-sharp focus on details when needed. The finale, with the women of the company eating space in an extended section of phrasework, illustrates McKinney’s concept of “meditative exhaustion” perfectly. Turns go into a sudden swooping arc, the dancers drop in and out of the floor with an ease and intensity that works in counterpoint to the punctuation of their audible breaths. A bell chimes and they all finally fall to the floor; if the rest of Three Poisons is half so intense, I cannot help but wonder at–and applaud–the performers who could stay standing after such a physically demanding trial.

Cameron McKinney in "Hitsuzendo"

Cameron McKinney in “Hitsuzendo”

To close out the dancing for the evening, McKinney took to the stage to show an excerpt from his solo, Hitsuzendo. I have commented before that watching McKinney perform puts all the rest of his work into perspective, and this evening was no different. His purposeful level of effort, whether in the ground, moving through fluid isolations and waves, or slowing down into pantomimed comedy, is mesmerizing. He drops to the floor as though his legs were cut out from under him and later emerges into an indisputably sexy flirtation with the space that goes sour. The soundscape seems to physically attack his person, as though each reverberation creates an open wound yet seems to resound from his very bones. The final image of McKinney shakily taking an old-fashioned courtier’s bow, arms outstretched and head dropped, was haunting. Intense, humorous, laden with pathos–this solo is many things, but the adjective that is consistent throughout is impressive.

The evening could only be judged a success, not only on the strength of the choreography and the dancing but also in the atmosphere. The Kizuna dancers all have larger than life personalities, which perhaps explains the ease with which each of them can fill the space and also ensures that they have no trouble interacting with their audiences, whether onstage or off. McKinney, in his opening remarks, stated a belief that, “strong community makes for strong performance.” I am absolutely inclined to believe him and feel privileged to be a part of such a colorful community. I have said it before and am sure I will say it again: keep an eye on Cameron McKinney | Kizuna Dance. They’re going places.

Kizuna Dance at their 2016 Season Kickoff

Kizuna Dance at their 2016 Season Kickoff

All images by Ezra Goh Photography. Courtesy Kizuna Dance.

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Courtney Escoyne is an associate editor at Dance Magazine. A graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance, her writing can also be read in Pointe and Dance Teacher, and on her blog, Thoughts From a Ballet Nerd.

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