IMPRESSIONS: Ivy Baldwin Dance’s Keen [No. 2]
Trina Mannino, Dance Enthusiast

In Keen [No. 2], Ivy Baldwin culls from mourning traditions to unearth the hues of grief. Her inspirations run from Irish keening, a vocal lament for the dead, to Paul Klee’s geometric, haunting illustrations for Voltaire’s Candide. The work is also autobiographical — an ode to Baldwin’s close friend and dancer Lawrence P. Cassella who died in 2015 from the rare immune disease HLH. With sensitivity and poetic poignancy, the choreographer and her female ensemble embody emotions often only expressed behind closed doors.

Baldwin evokes guttural loss with a magnetic set and score. Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen’s behemoth sculpture suspends from the theater’s fly system like a shrine, evoking billowy peonies, dripping stalagmites, and sumptuous fabric. Similar to the longing one may feel for the deceased, you could let the cavernous set envelop you and stay forever in its safe, warm clutches.

Justin Jones’ reverberating sound score is augmented by the dancers. Ten women in tangerine leotards trill with their tongues and lips; they shriek and whoop. Humorously flocking on all fours, the group warbles like birds reaching a cacophonous crescendo. Baldwin is especially compelling as she makes a bumblebee sound. Her sinew and bone fling and convulse with cat-like precision in response to her buzzing.

While there are moments of lightness, severity sucks any lingering levity right out. In a series of effortful balances, Katie Workum reaches her tensile limbs almost beyond her control. Her chest heaves in its expansion like flesh bursting under a ripe peach’s skin. Later, she and Eleanor Smith engage in an intimate, entangled duet. Embracing Workum firmly, Smith refuses to collapse under her partner’s weight. These moments are transfixing and visceral, but do become tediously long. We shift anxiously in our seats in response to the discomfort displayed onstage.

Baldwin may linger too long in a few places, but she always examines grief in a new way, tracing and palming it like a rough stone. Keen [No. 2] pivots into contemplation as the ensemble traverses the theater in successive skimming steps. Wearing gauzy capes, the dancers conjure images of recent pop culture phenomena Wonder Woman and the handmaids in the Hulu show based on Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel. They’re majestic and serene until anger takes hold. Anna Halprin’s Paper Dances — revived one day earlier uptown — is recalled. Here, however, dancing with paper is not a playful, celestial act. Rather, it’s a dispenser of rage as the women thrash white sheets in violent agony.

The work concludes with resilience. Smith, in a powerful solo, gestures her hands apart with such force that her cheeks tremble. Her steely glance conveys that she — and us too — must soldier on. Keen [No. 2], through its depiction of the finer gradations of grief, awakens deep-seated emotions that we tend to tuck away. Baldwin and these strong women remind us that we’re not alone.

Trina Mannino for Dance Enthusiast
June 7, 2017.