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Flash 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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