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A perspective on “Knoxville”

A perspective on “Knoxville”

This blog post is an excerpt of a review written by Donald Atwood and published on his site: World Dance Reviews.

Hannah Kahn’s new work – “Knoxville: Summer of 1915″- is so many things it bears watching many times. It is about Samuel Barber’s music in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. It is about Kahn’s luscious ability to use any music, about how she uses this music, as well as about what James Agee – a contemporary of Barber – saw in that music. What Agee saw is sung by Soprano Irene VanHam Friedlob. The Barber score is played live by Mutsumi Moteki as Kahn’s dancers embody what Kahn finds in Barber’s music and Agee’s text. The results are complex, striking, and and come from a wonderful collaboration through history of perceptions about Knoxville at that time. Of Barber’s music about his perception, of Agee’s childhood cum adult perceptions, and about Kahn’s ability to embody that in dance. That dance includes a family unit that varies in prominence with Jacob Mora as what is maybe Agee’s father – who died a year later in 1916 – Lara Hayes Giles as Agee’s Mother, Gina Jacobs Thomas as maybe Agee – who also varies between boy and adult – and Brittany Roney as a “girl” of some mystery. Theresa Anton, Tiffany Erickson, and Michael Richman dance roles Kahn also found in Agee’s rich text. All of the movement takes on characteristics and details Barber saw in Knoxville from rocking chairs to spinning wheels and the sounds of hoofs on road surfaces, as well as emotions expressed by Agee. Those emotions vary from love, to duress and prayer. And much of the work’s success is about those dancers abilities to embody both the movement and emotion Kahn gave them. In much of the work two huge bolts of fabric – Kahn’s interpretation of quilts Agee saw spread on wet grass – are integral partners in the dance and used in unique ways to move and wrap dancers. This is a departure from what I have seen of Hannah Kahn’s work, and probably that is in the “seeing,” in that for the first time I feel she gave me a glimpse into her process. “Knoxville: … ” includes wonderful costumes by Kloria Stockeld as well as photographs researched by her and Barbara Ruley.

Donald K. Atwood

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