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Review 2, 7-12: Stepping Out
Koplowitz & Crew Hit the Museum
By April Biggs
Copyright 2004 April Biggs
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NEW YORK -- Undaunted
by the threat of rain, Stephan Koplowitz's June 28 performance of
The Grand Step Project at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House
kicked off with Kevin Tarrant leading the intertribal SilverCloud
Singers in drumming and descending melodies. Several children in
the audience sang along, ignoring the incessant whir of the helicopter
hovering above (a permanent fixture in post-9/11 New York City).
Marked by dancers and musicians draped across the steps of prominent
public buildings, the project had found its latest home in the Lower
Manhattan Cultural Council's SiteLines festival, this event
co-produced by Dancing in the Streets.
Like a calm unfurling
of the sea, the dancers began to trickle and roll down the short
exterior steps of the museum, each one reversing after the last
step to return to the top, stepping over the bodies of others. An
original ambient score by Quentin Chiappetta of synthesizer and
beats added texture to the gentle scene.
Following the first
progression down the stairs, intermittent groups of five or ten
gathered with scooping and reaching arm gestures, sometimes ending
with a finger pointing to the sky. Bubbles blown by street vendors
cascaded through the audience's line of sight. The seemingly carefree
canonic movement performed in sneakers and everything from skirts
to pants to button-down dress shirts resembled the bustle of midtown.
But the pastel and muted tones of the costumes diminished the luster
of the piece. As 50 dancers moved often out of sync and the local
activity occasionally proved distracting, the costumes did not make
it easy to remain engaged. After the performers repeatedly descended,
ascended and traversed the stairs, alongside sporadic walking and
jumping sequences, the music climaxed and the company sat down,
their ranks split down the middle by the handrail. The peak occurred
a bit too late, however.
The most captivating
moments in the piece were characterized by simplicity and synchronicity.
When swarms of dancers formed and moved down the stairs with their
arms open wide and their chests lifted to the sun, or everyone laid
their heads tenderly on the concrete steps, it somehow made the
gray of the building seem more majestic. Sections signified by many
different incidents happening at once were not nearly as stunning.
There was balance when the two extremes fused, such as when about
40 of the dancers made a circle around the periphery and joyous
duets erupted in the center. As well, level changes or frantic movement
punctuated by slow motion caught my eye.
The Grand Step Project
came to a sudden close with the full ensemble stepping forward,
collapsing onto the stairs and standing again. As if opening a door,
the performers swept their right arms out to the side with a slight
follow of the upper torso and head, and then, as the music faded
out, stood facing the audience. The ending was plain and left me
with the sense that maybe the power with which the work began had
yet to be woven into its body. After a series of bows, the dancers
casually disappeared through the entrance of the museum. Eager to
partake in the revelry, a child ran to the stairs to mock the performance
but was immediately ushered away by a museum patrol. Obviously we
must confine our inappropriate behaviors to the appropriate times.
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