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Dancing on Site

UWM Summerdances transfigures two Milwaukee landmarks

Jun. 11, 2013
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At nightfall on June 13, 14 and 15, 14 dancers will perform at the base of the beautiful North Point Water Tower while digital projections animate the white stone monument's upper half and 25 voices from Bel Canto Chorus sing a wordless accompaniment written and conducted by Music Director Richard Hynson. You'll watch, free of charge, from the edge of North Avenue where it carves a small island around this historic landmark.

On the afternoons of June 14 and 15, twice as many dancers will transfigure the fountain-lined Cudahy Gardens of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Tim Russell, Milwaukee's outstanding composer for modern dance, will premiere an original score. You'll watch, free of charge, first from the sidewalk facing east with the Calatrava as the background, then from the walk bridge that connects the building with O'Donnell Park and Wisconsin Avenue, looking south onto the terraced gardens, the nearby traffic, the lake and the far horizon.

Named for the man who conceived and choreographed both works, these entirely distinct site-specific performances share the title "Stephan Koplowitz: Water Sight, Milwaukee." They represent the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts Dance Department's radical rethinking of its annual "Summerdances," the recital with student dancers that caps each school year. UWM's School of Freshwater Sciences is a project partner. Water is the theme.

I interviewed Koplowitz on the walk bridge as he experimented with movement across the series of descending terraces below, communicating with the dancers via walkie-talkie. Koplowitz is the dean of the School of Dance at the California Institute of the Arts and a heavily awarded, internationally commissioned artist who specializes in site-specific performances. Luc Vanier, the distinguished choreographer and UWM dance faculty member, was once his assistant and recommended him for this incredible project. Vanier will design the projections for the water tower piece.

Koplowitz has made dances for other watery sites, but after three planning trips to Milwaukee, he said he realized that "This city is truly, honestly, sincerely about water, more than other cities that make that claim."

Koplowitz wants to give people another way to enjoy these well-known sites. "I try not to gussy things up," he said. "I like them to be what they are. I don't shy away from the iconic—my first site-specific work was in New York's Grand Central Station—but I like simplicity. I'm a minimalist within a large canvas."

Performances at the North Point Park and Water Tower are at 9 p.m. June 13-15; performances at MAM's Cudahy Gardens are at 6 p.m. on June 14 and 3 p.m. on June 15.


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