Shaprio & Smith Dance performance paper – 4/6/08

Shapiro & Smith Dance’s newest production “Next Steps” is an example of how production elements greatly aid a performance. The lights expressed the tone of each dance piece; the sound supported the choreography by creating a sensory ambiance; the costumes made each character come to life; and the choreography showed the thought and brilliance of the show’s maker.

I saw “Next Steps” twice. The first viewing was purely for my own enjoyment. The second time around however, I came in with a critical eye. While at the second viewing, I found that I felt certain ways depending on the lighting. In Maggie Bergeron’s piece “Accidentally Walking Through Nothing,” for example, I felt gloomy. I believe the reason for this was because the dark lights set a gloomy, lost tone. The best example of lights supporting a piece is seen in the second part of “What Dark/Falling Into Light.” The stark yellow of the lights provided a striking contrast to the very dark first half. The saturated yellow made the dancers – who are in great physical shape and are feed well – look sickly. Also, the blinding white light coming from the front floor lights brought out the fear, panic and distress in each performer’s face when they crawled to the front edge of the stage. This effect greatly supported the intention of the choreography and vision of the piece. In “Miniatures,” I enjoyed that the lights became the through line for the piece. A single light – that appeared to be coming from the prop door – introduced nearly every vignette. It created the sense that we were either going into or coming out of one of the character’s homes, which I appreciated.

The soundscapes of each piece created an ambiance in the theater. In my opinion, the best example of a mood generating soundscape is seen in “What Dark…Light.” In the first half of the piece, the voice of David Greenspan is heard. His words did not register in my mind (save for the phrase “what dark”) yet the sound of his voice and his inflections made me feel as if I was in a trance. Because I was in a mesmerized, trance-like state, the second half of the piece was much more jarring. I was pulled out of my glassy-eyed, tranquil (but not quite peaceful) state – created by Greenspan’s text – and was shocked by the jarring sounds of harsh breaths and trains rolling over tracks. The soundscape made me feel uncomfortable and unnerved which was part of the piece’s intention. The soundscape in “Miniatures” created a light, airy environment. The songs were pleasant and humorous. They also supported the characters that the dancers were representing. Conversely, Joanie Smith made the decision to perform her flower solo in silence. It worked because the absence of sound allowed the audience to focus solely on the character. The character was so lively and full that I appreciated not being distracted by any of the other production elements.

Costuming in “Next Steps” allowed characters to develop in each piece. Specifically in “Miniatures” the costumes made the characters seem somewhat unreal. I say this not because they couldn’t exist but rather they seemed overly exaggerated in color and size and therefore a bit unreal. I suppose a better way of putting this is I felt like the dancers could have been cartoon characters. The colors were not only ones that many people don’t wear – or at least not in those particular combinations – but they were also overly vibrant, much like that of cartoon shows. The costumes also did not fit the dancers well. Because of this, I felt as if the dancers were children who were trying on their parents clothing. The costumes did however help create relationships between the dancers. In one of Ned Sturgis’ ball dances, Mathew Janczewski was behind him in the dimly light upstage area. They were doing the same movement in nearly perfect synchronization. I felt like Mathew’s character was the father of Ned’s character because their costumes were the same colors. Ned was wearing a bright green shirt and dark pants while Mathew was wearing a dark shirt and bright green pants. Another example is a quartet between Ned, Maggie, Kari Mosel and Eddie Oroyan. Ned and Kari were supposed to be a couple and were dressed in similar colors. The same is true for Maggie and Eddie. I am not certain if these specific costume choices were done on purpose but I have a hard time thinking they all happened accidentally because they so perfectly create relationships between the characters.

It is impossible to talk about a dance show without talking about the choreography. The movement in every piece was inventive and breathtaking. The quality with which the performers dance is full of ease, even though I know the movement is anything but easy. In “Accidentally…Nothing,” Maggie developed a motif by repeating a certain moment in the choreography. Doing this gave meaning to the movement which then gave meaning the entire piece. I am most impressed with the choreography of “Miniatures.” This is because it is the first Shapiro & Smith Dance piece that was choreographed after Danny Shapiro’s death. I am pleased that Joanie was able to finish a piece on her own and still keep the integrity and feel of the company when her partner was alive. It was as if his spirit and creativity were around as the choreography was being created. Joanie has said that the dancers helped come up with “Danny-like” choreography which I’m sure eased the transition from co-artistic director to artistic director.

The production elements of Shapiro & Smith Dance’s “Next Steps” greatly aided the performance. The lights expressed the tone of each dance piece which gave me chills; the sound supported the choreography by creating a sensory ambiance which filled the theater; the costumes made each character come to life in a pleasant and oftentimes fun manor; and the choreography showed the thought and brilliance of the show’s maker Joanie Smith.


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