Tom Strini

UWM Dancing Beneath the Sun and the Moon

UW-Milwaukee's Year of the Arts ends with beguiling site-specific works by Stephan Koplowitz, at the Water Tower and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

By - Jun 16th, 2013 02:46 pm



Dancers in the garden, audience on the bridge, for Stephan Koplowitz’s “lines, tides, shores…”. Jessica Kaminski photo.

Stephan Koplowitz, Luc Vanier and student dancers gave UWM’s Year of the Arts an elegant ending over the weekend (June 13-15) with two free, outdoor, site-specific works.

Vanier, of the UWM dance faculty, devised enchanting and ingenious video projections for The Current Past, given Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the North Point Water Tower, at the eastern terminus of North Avenue. I can’t imagine how he got the dimentions and proportions exactly right, but he masked the neo-Gothic tower top to nearly bottom with an exact image of itself, thus raising brain-teasing questions of image vs reality and the mechanics of perception. At first, you weren’t quite sure what you were seeing, but then could tell the difference when the image disappeared. Later, Vanier wobbled the image, which made the 175-foot tower appear to be reflected on the quivering surface of a pond.

In one breathtaking series of images, a gigantic swimmer seemed to rise from the earth, swim up the tower and disappear into the night sky. In another, water-born microbes at huge proportions wriggled up the shaft. The tower, long since decommissioned by the Milwaukee Water Department, once absorbed surges to prevent damage to water pipes. Vanier illustrated that function in x-ray fashion with huge jets of utterly convincing water that shot to the top of the tower and cascaded down.

Fourteen dancers, all women, wound around the base of the tower and broke into set pieces in front of it. Koplowitz’s choreography, though very simple, was not lost beneath the projections. Somehow, the dancers, the imposing tower and the projections worked as one complete picture — all the moreso when onsite cameras captured the dancers live and projected them in bigger scale 20 feet up the tower.

Richard Hynson’s music, sung live by the Bel Canto Chorus, likewise merged into an experience that engulfed the senses as it stimulated the mind.



Finale of Stephan Koplowitz’s “lines, tides, shores…” at the Milwaukee Art Museum Cudahy Gardens. Jessica Kaminski photo.

Dance is by nature ephemeral, but Vanier’s projections could go on independently and indefinitely. I do hope that Vanier, the City of Milwaukee, the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood Association, nearby businesses and the Milwaukee County Parks Department will look into the feasibility of installing these projections as part of Milwaukee’s night-time skyline. The work honors the architecture without altering it in any way and would quickly become one of the city’s most famous and beloved public artworks.

Tim Russell composed the sometimes ambient, sometimes pulsing recorded music for lines, tides, shores…, the much dancier and more abstract piece Koplowitz made for 27 dancers and the Cudahy Gardens at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The audience — at least 400 looked on when I saw the piece Saturday afternoon — moved along with the dancers from one quadrant of Dan Kiley’s garden design to another. The dancers stayed below and occupied the three southern quadrants as we climbed to Santiago Calatrava’s suspension bridge to observe the finale from above.

This formal dance played off the formal elegance and geometry of Kiley’s gardens. Koplowitz drew the body shapes from the arches and wings of the Calatrava museum annex as well as the right angles and diagonals of the gardens.

The traffic patterns of the dancers were all about the gardens. In the first two sections, Koplowitz played special attention to the way the landscape drops in relation to the strip of fountain at the center. The fountain, at grade on the south end of each section, becomes a 5-foot wall at the north end. So dancers could tumble and sink into grassy trough as other dancers climbed, hung or stood on the walls, to create a vivid and original take on the concept of positive and negative space.

The dashing, rolling and climbing gave lines, tides and shores… an exhilarating athleticism, a celebration of the body, that the Water Tower piece did not have. The women danced it exuberantly and were very beautiful.

I commend them also for gameness. In the end of it, they lined up single file atop the fountain, straddling the dry jets, to highlight the forced perspective of the gardens. They extended, raised and lowered their arms in sequence, to mimic the action of Calatrava’s brise soleil. Just as a cold wind whipped up off the lake, the fountain came on. Water rose to their ankles, their knees, their thighs  — oh surely it wouldn’t go higher! It did. Not one of them flinched. Bless you all, ladies.

Categories: Art, Dance, Music

0 thoughts on “UWM Dancing Beneath the Sun and the Moon”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great review! I was at both dances (at MAM and at the Water Tower) and they had decidedly different tones and flavors, each beautiful in its own way. The Water Tower dance, at 9 p.m., was eerie and unworldly with its projections of dancers and shadows on the tower with the Bel Canto Chorus in the background. I sat next to Superman on the curb (a four year old boy in a Superman costume) who told me that when he was young (!!!) he had seen this Spooky-thing before! The MAM dance was more acrobatic and repetitive and filled with light, and especially interesting in the third set of dances viewed from atop the MAM bridge. Either way, one can see how Koplowitz was indeed influenced by this great body of water that he saw in front of our city (Lake Michigan) when he first arrived here. Great performances, and free!

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