Still Going Strong

Still Going Strong

Image designed by Theresa Anton. Courtesy of Hannah Kahn Dance Company.
Image designed by Theresa Anton. Courtesy of Hannah Kahn Dance Company.

Hannah Kahn Dance Company’s Follow presents thirty-five years’ worth of choreography in a two-hour span at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theater. As anyone familiar with the difficulties of not only sustaining an artistic practice but also a dance company for any length of time let alone over three decades knows, such a feat is no easy task. Follow proves Kahn’s artistic stamina and prolific, multi-dimensional vision.

Kahn began her choreography career while as a student at the Julliard School. She formed her New York-based company in 1976 and later moved to Denver in 1988 and formed the new company in 1992. Kahn’s numerous awards include two National Endowment for the Arts choreography fellowships, a CoVisions Recognition Award from Colorado Creative Industries (formerly the Colorado Council on the Arts), and being named a “Living Legend of Dance” by the Carson Brierly Giffin Dance Library, an award that honors individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to dance in Colorado.

Photo of Kaitlin Gibson in -Crest-. Photo by David Andrews. Image courtesy of Hannah Kahn Dance Company.
Photo of Kaitlin Gibson in Crest. Photo by David Andrews. Image courtesy of Hannah Kahn Dance Company.

Arranged in chronological order, the performance begins with sections from 1980’s Crest set to music by Robert Schumann. Kahn pairs the music’s exuberant yet elegant character with similar forms and movements of seven dancers. In her description of the work, Kahn says she “leaned on the architectural structure of this masterpiece…to create more complex overarching forms.” Indeed, the individual movements of each dancer as well as the overarching motions of the dancers as group remain dynamic, intricate and elaborate throughout. The only aspect of the performance not in tune remained the bright pink and purple costumes which called too much attention and distracted from the dancers’ movements. I wondered if these were the same costumes from the 1980 performance, which could explain the brash colors and cuts.

The second piece, Inside Out, from 1992 Kahn describes as a “dark and uncomfortable psychological portrait”. From the instant the lights hit the stage, it was clear that this piece had more at stake than the previous work. Primordial music and sounds by Mike Vargas and amphibian-like body suits make dancers Kimberly Chmielewski and Bailey Harper seem amoebic, cellular, non-human. The harrowing struggle between the two dancers follows a series of disconcerting turns and twists as the power shifts from one to the other. In the middle of the performance, my friend whispered to me, “I don’t like this.” While I did not “like” the performance per se, I was enraptured, mesmerized by it more so than any of the other works performed that evening due to the inherent conflict within it. As such, it was the most successful work of the evening.

The third piece, Around the Fire and On the Banks, uses Simon Jakob Drees’ globally-inspired music for a playful, energetic piece from 2000. The eight dancers work together to weave complex forms and movements across the stage through Kahn’s signature physically demanding choreography. A few of the coupled cartwheels, however, teetered. Yet again the costumes, sleeveless body suits cut off at the knees and covered by black mesh capes (also sleeveless), distract from the dancers’ movement and create an odd and out-of-place reference to magic than imagined tribes and cultures.

Kahn sets 2014’s Follow to what she describes as an “evocative score” by Todd Reynolds. Like with Around the Fire the dancers work beautifully together through independent mixed meters as well as synchronized movements. The dancers’ metallic, silky harem pants, however, remain my only recurring complaint. I found myself focused more the on the fabric and style of the costumes than on the dancers themselves.

The final piece, a premiere of Fruition, “celebrates the joys of the creative process.” The wine-colored costumes (in this case spot on), the lush choreography and the sinuous, vibrant interpretation of the dancers all come together to form a lively, engaging piece filled with dynamism, beauty and pure happiness. Despite being the final work out of five, this piece had the most energy of the evening, showcasing both Kahn’s and the dancers’ passion and love for dance.

It’s exciting to see that even after almost four decades, Kahn maintains such devotion and enthusiasm for dance and that her creative impulse shows no signs of slowing down. Follow serves as a lovely celebration of movement and music. Let’s hope the next thirty-five years are as bountiful.

Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Americans for the Arts’ ARTSblog, Daily Serving and KYSO Flash.