On Saturday, January 11, 2020, Hannah Kahn Dance Company (HKDC) took over The Studio Loft at the Ellie Caulkins Theater of the Denver Performing Arts Complex for an evening of black box performance. For Beck and Call, choreographer Hannah Kahn reached into her 45-year-long oeuvre to present five works from 1974-2015 in addition to premiering a new work.
The evening began with the exuberant “More Dancing to Singing” from 1995, featuring iconic songs by The Beatles like “I’m Looking Through You,” “The Word,” and “Long, Long, Long.” The costumes, dresses with aprons, heightened the swinging-sixties feel of the piece with a subtle reference to utopian communes like Colorado’s own Drop City, founded by Denver artist Clark Richert along with three other artists and filmmakers. While joyful and jaunty, the work maintained moments of poetry with balletic movements and a strong sense of intimacy between individual dancers as well as with the audience.
Set to Vivaldi and rooted in elegant fluidity, the second piece, “Common Ground” from 1998, capitalized on lyricism while maximizing the space in sculptural ways. Kahn masterfully weaves her dancers in intricate patterns across the stage. It’s like watching a living, breathing polyhedron shape shift like some magic creature. The costumes, flowing dresses in red, orange, and pink, added a fiery presence to the stage.
Before “Beck and Call,” Kahn greeted the audience and gave a short talk to preface the premiere work. She described how “Beck and Call” was set to the first movement of a longer composition by Antonín Dvořák. While Kahn stated her work mostly remains non-narrative, she compared the song’s changes in mood and tempo to the shifts in a novel, saying they felt like narratives. The work began with the dancers sliding on their bellies, as if swimming or diving. At times the choreography leaned toward the acrobatic, with dancers climbing up one another or grasping their arms behind their backs. The close proximity of the audience to the dancers allowed for a more intimate and sensory experience: the heavy breathing of the dancers or the sound of their skin skidding across the Marley floor. These sounds beautifully matched the musicality of the song, as if a bodily orchestra had joined the instrumental one. As with much of Kahn’s work, “Beck and Call” made adept use of individual dancers and smaller groups with call-and-response choreography.
The next piece, 2015’s “Fruition,” set to zingy music by Jean-Phillipe Viret, Time for Three, and Jean-Phillipe Goude, featured sultry and passionate choreography. One section had a trio essentially weaving itself across the stage with arms entwined and legs swooping around in a mesmerizing and almost M.C. Escher-like pattern.
“Spill/Quell,” set to a jazzy piano by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, began with the lanky, tip-toey cadence of a puppet with several unpredictable, slightly goofy starts and stops by a trio of dancers. Rogue body parts seemed to zip here or there in a zany kind of play. The second song featured a duet and a more fluid beginning that morphed into the pained frenzy of a frustrated child.
The final work, 2007’s “Infusion,” ended the evening on a high note both literally and figuratively. The work combined songs from multiple genres such as blues, gospel, samba and Irish step for a high energy crescendo complete with flourishes and dynamism. The costumes, guazey greens, blues, teals, and purples, created a fertile lushness that the music and movement emphasized. With the entire company on stage, the piece felt like an homage or tribute to Mother Nature due to its celebratory quality. The two lifts at the end acted as double exclamation points to the evening’s performance.
HKDC gave an entertaining, emotionally charged, and varied performance with Beck and Call. However, at least one-third to one-half of the audience couldn’t fully see it due to the seating layout. As the performance went on, I realized how much of the choreographer’s intricacy and intelligence the audience was missing. This kind of seating layout does a disservice to the audience as well as to the dancers. Clear sightlines are an integral part of not only watching but understanding dance. I hope HKDC and The Loft can find a way to leverage the opportunities and overcome the challenges of black box performance next time.
Deanne Gertner A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from Regis University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently sits on the board of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and was previously involved with CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in DailyServing, Quaint Magazine, and Scintilla. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about family dynamics in addition to editing a newspaper/zine about happiness for Denver Theatre District’s Happy City project with U.K. artist Stuart Semple.