Dialects in Teknique+1: the Unique Language of Redd Legg Dance

Written by Tori McConnell

(Photo: Redd Legg Dance in Cantica Renati at Teknique+1)
Ethereal voices filled Broadway Performance Hall with limpid emotion and reverence. Lights faded in and, like statues in a cathedral, dancers carved through space in Cantica Renati, the opener of Redd Legg Dance’s “Teknique+1.” Full of contrast, the performance illustrated the vision of Kristen Legg, the artistic director/choreographer, as well as the company’s multi-layered mission and the complexity and intensity for which it is known.

Under the swell of chanting voices, a controlled duet began Cantica Renati while the group lay deathly still on the floor. Fingers slowly came to life, a reaching hand that returned through the piece. Gestures of worship and piety were interlaced with articulating legs and spines, yet there was little clear emotion in the dancers. Though starting with poise, the ensemble work of Cantica Renati alternated between crystalline and fuzzy. As pointing hands again reached heavenward, dancers instilled the space with a suspended-breath quality reminiscent of the layers of meaning and feeling found in ancient churches.

Excerpted from a larger work, Mother May I… introduced a chunk of abstract, intriguing movement with Legg’s signature idiosyncratic rhythms and unique blend of balletic vocabulary and contemporary movements. Set to what started as classical music, the choreography engaged the eye only with its constant drive of diagonals and angles. Technical and clear-cut, Mother May I… would be appreciated by those familiar with ballet. Beyond the athleticism, for those without a dance background, knowing the context of the whole piece would make the experience more accessible. 

(Dancers Mary Kirkpatrick, Mari LaRocca, and
Stacy Brenner in Babyhead Fear Manicure )
Babyhead Fear Manicure, featured striking lighting: dark colors with two slashes of light illuminating the backdrop. Strains of Mozart prolonged the serious mood, until a dancer leapt on stage and broke into a crazed grin. Smiles turned to biting as hospital-gowned dancers performed clever abstractions of obsessive itching, and conducted invisible orchestras with frenzied smiles. Wildly over the top, Legg’s phrases and group work skillfully used the space, and the dancers developed individual characters. None more so than Caitlin McCarthy who shone as a sometimes happy, invisible-piano-playing type of insane.  Alternating between silly and violent, arabesques and flittering hands, the piece left a chuckling question: are they all crazy or just figments of McCarthy’s mind?

With feeling and execution, Four Forlorn Women Brandish Their Scarsshowcased the strength of the dancers and Legg’s choreography. A tight diagonal with a square spotlights introduced the passionate movement. With each story of grief, angst and pain played through the dancers features and shaped the phrase-work. Grand pliés and a waltz with a slap on the face echoed through the piece. Relentlessly emotional, each solo built to the final ensemble; the women united in a final surprising shout.

Squares of light dappled a corner of the stage and swirled across Karena Birk’s red dress in the introspective, yet dynamic solo, C. and other fears. With delicate movements and balance, Birk filled her confined corner of light with quiet and quick movement. Legg’s choice to set the choreography far downstage and impound the dancer spatially, heightened the relief when Birk gently burst along the upstage diagonal. Despite the beginnings of freedom, the well lit limits of the corner called her back.
Redd Legg Dance company members in The Finish Line.

Blaringly colored velvet running suits dashed across the stage in The Finish Line as dancers cheered and jeered each other. Legg took the last few meters of the race to epic dimensions with wild exaggeration, creating a bickering climax for the entire evening. In slow motion, the dancers made the final push across the stage, as the remaining company members joined the race in all variety of costumes. In tortoise-and-hare fashion each runner was distracted, fell, or started a brawl until none but an old lady was left, her slow plodding bringing victory at last.

The striking juxtaposition of the serious and abstract with the zany and melodramatic demonstrated Redd Legg Dance’s multifaceted vision. Legg focuses on artistic merit, speaking to social issues, technique, and making “dances that speak to a wide audience,” yet her choreography met these goals with mixed success. Similarly, the variety of technical levels and body types celebrated at “Teknique +1” was refreshing, but also tended to reveal imprecise moments. Though intentionality and artistic choices were evident, some works were far more thorough, engaging and relatable than others.