By Gia Kourlas
3 August 2020
TIVOLI, N.Y. — It didn’t bode well that the first live dance I was going to see since mid-March was one I had seen many times before. “Sunshine,” a Larry Keigwin war horse set to the Bill Withers’s classic “Ain’t No Sunshine,” can give a dancer the opportunity to really feel the music in all the worst ways. It’s treacly stuff.
So I’m happy to say that as soon as Melvin Lawovi began to move, my chest tightened; I even sensed — the horror — some tears. Lately, for self-preservation, I’ve been talking myself into believing that I can live without watching dance in person, and while that is true, I clearly miss it. A lot. “Sunshine,” which opened the outdoor Kaatsbaan Summer Festival under beautiful blue skies on Saturday, worked out just fine.
That was also to the credit of Mr. Lawovi, a recent addition to American Ballet Theater, who never delivered a treacly moment as he traversed the stage with the lightest touch. Instead of dwelling on the lyrics or giving into angst, he danced with an unparalleled polish, as if his body were clearing the air.
But repertory alone doesn’t seem the be all end all of this summer festival, the first of its kind in Kaatsbaan’s 30 years as a cultural park. From the performances to Brandon Stirling Baker’s light-and-sound installation in a rustic barn to the peace of being surrounded by so much open space and air, the festival is not only about live dance. It’s a package. The best choreographic moments came in the dancers’ simple yet courtly walks across the grass to the stage.
Kaatsbaan’s artistic director, Stella Abrera, and its executive director, Sonja Kostich, aren’t messing around when it comes to safety, and that was comforting, too, at this socially distanced performance. The experience included frantically filling out the health check survey in the car while thinking hard about the questions: Was that a touch of a sore throat this morning?
I loved the elegant firmness of the handwritten signs telling us to wear masks; the raised stage that seemed like it was dropped from the sky onto a field; and the optional post-performance walk, on the grounds of what was originally a farm, with live music (instead of a meandering or self-congratulatory post-performance talk).
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