In so much of dance, especially ballet, there’s a narrow variance of body shape and size. Most dancers tend to be muscular and thin.
It was refreshing, then, to see a bit more variety at Shapiro & Smith Dance’s 30th anniversary concert at the Cowles Center on Thursday night.
The women dancers in particular range from petite to Amazonian. In the first piece, “Moonlight,” created by company founders Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith in 1998, there was a wonderful female energy, challenging the very definition of femininity. Clothed in white dresses, the dancers frolicked under the moon’s full gaze. But these were no childish sprites. Rather, they were beings with weight and strength — taking up space as they deliriously slapped against each other.
Re-imagined femininity came into further play with “Bolero,” Smith’s 2010 piece originally for a cast of men. The rousing, crowd-pleasing work, set to Maurice Ravel’s famous orchestral piece, was delightful as an all-female performance. It was especially stirring to see women adapting militarylike moves: running, somersaulting and shoving — especially after the recent women’s marches.
The counterpoint came with Smith’s all-male premiere, “A Naked Man’s Shirt,” with dancers Andrew Lester, Scott Mettille and Stephen Schroeder playing up the physical comedy. Their athleticism was in no way diminished by the goofy ways they slipped in and out of their tees and flannel shirts.
Also on the program was Smith’s “Burning Air” from 2011, inspired by the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. Smith appeared onstage to read a text by David Greenspan, filled with stark imagery that reminded one of historic letters. The dancers, meanwhile, assumed some extremely elemental roles — water, air, fire, earth, even animals — and effectively captured the enormous trauma that struck the Hinckley community.
While Shapiro & Smith can be applauded for their diversity of body shapes, diversity of race is another matter. It’s jarring to walk from the diverse streets of downtown Minneapolis into the Cowles Center to find an entirely white audience, with most of the performers appearing to be white as well (there were a few exceptions in the “Bolero” piece). It’s a disconnect that goes beyond a single venue or company, but one that surely needs addressing in the Twin Cities dance community.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.