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    Dance Gang: Dog Free
    Photo by Zhenesse Heinneman

    Dynamic Duo in a Very Large Place

    Dance Gang take on 3 basketball courts and a parachute


    Will Rawls and Kennis Hawkins, as Dance Gang, mix subtle and broad, wacky and cute, and dance and basketball to come up with a nicely tuned site-specific piece called Dog Free, performed on basketball courts under the West Side Highway and next to an ultimate frisbee field.

    Choreography by: Kennis Hawkins, Will Rawls.
    Dancers: Kennis Hawkins, Will Rawls.

    Related links: Summer on the Hudson Festival
    Summer on the Hudson Festival
    71st Street Westside basketball courts
    Riverside Park South
    July 16-18, 2009

    A little bit of audience manipulation brings home the size and scope of the space; shifting everyone from the far end 100 yards back to the other end signals the beginning of the piece, though most of the audience doesn't sense this until about 10 minutes later. With a stage the size of 3 full basketball courts, things happen a bit slowly. Those 10 minutes give the audience time to absorb the sensations of the space; the smell of water, steady sigh of traffic 100 feet overhead, small shouts from a frisbee game and the specific movements of midgame basketball players.

    Worksuits further blend Rawls and Hawkins into the space and give them the incognito appearance of parkworkers. The first real indication there is a piece happening is the back and forth clapping the two introduce while still sitting 100 yards away, which naturally blends into the sounds of basketball. So much of this piece is about blending into the space just enough to keep the environment active as a third performer.

    Kennis Hawkins and Will Rawls, incognito in Dance Gang: Dog Free
    Photo by Zhenesse Heinneman
    Kennis Hawkins and Will Rawls, incognito

    After the two finally emerge onto the nearest basketball court with small beauty pageant handwaves, the first segment has fun with the idea of basketball as an oppositional game and with the lines on the court. Rawls and Hawkins do a sort of mirrored basketball defense dance with each on opposite lines of the halfcourt. Each in turn subtly pulls out a coaching whistle and blows it softly to the other as if to prevent some out-of-bounds violation. As "parkworkers", they string a stretchy pink ribbon across the width of the stage/length of the basketball court, using a massive column to anchor the middle. The same column serves as dressing room and scene shifter as the two use it to shed their worksuits and emerge individually as disco aerobicizers in spandex tights and sleeveless tops, with hightop sneaks. Rawls does an impressive handstand walk and then wanders off to play under the netting across the stage right fence. Hawkins eventually ends up magnetically attracted to the stage left fence and does a little rockwall fencewalking.

      So much of this piece is about blending into the space
    just enough to keep the environment active as a
    third performer.
    Things take a serious turn for the goofy when Rawls, who has gone missing somewhere along the way, emerges from behind a park building wearing an absurd black hippy wig that covers his head and neck and most of his face, carrying a self-powered speaker that is playing nonspecific, slightly strange urban music, which effectively echoes the nonspecific, slightly strange activities the duo develop. Nothing really makes sense or follows an apparent narrative, but there is always something happening.

    The duo don attractive white hoodie/shorts suits from bags stashed under park benches to start the final segment of the dance, which almost makes a point of getting the suits and the dancers dirty and sweaty as they crawl and writhe on the ground. There is a large army surplus parachute involved that seems like a giant constrictor snake at first, fighting with and "eating" people. Eventually the two play with the chute together, but soon it is time to say goodbye, and a parks cart picks the two up and drives off with them as they repeat their parade handwave to the audience.

    Dog Free is equally a sensory experience and a dance. Both Rawls and Hawkins have an exquisitely soft movement quality. Calling them gentle giants comes close but misses the beauty and quirkiness of their movement choices. Things come into and out of focus throughout, and time wanders as well, just the way a lazy day in the park works. On a warm summer evening, it all becomes a good excuse to consciously soak in the sights and sounds of the city without thinking too much about it.

    JULY 22, 2009

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