Dynamic Duo

AS NEW YORKERS who've adopted the Twin Cities as a second home, Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith are certainly doing their part to keep the airlines in business. Since they began teaching at the University of Minnesota nearly two years ago, they've both logged many an hour nurturing the dancers of tomorrow, and also continue to direct their eponymously named company, whose members reside in five states. Add to that the tours and the fundraising duties, and you've got a lifestyle that would test the mettle of any relationship.

But for Shapiro and Smith, who open the 1997 O'Shaughnessy Dance! series this weekend, guts and humor--as well as a knack for maximizing frequent flier bonus miles--are the keys to persevering. The pair initially met at UCLA and were reunited in New York when both joined the Murray Louis Dance Company. "We had all these duets, but we actually didn't get along all that well," Smith recalls. "Then on the road we roomed together and one thing led to another..." "We found out why we were actually fighting," Shapiro chimes. They married soon after leaving Murray Louis, and later founded Shapiro & Smith Dance, now marking its 10th year.

Mixing love and work is tricky business. For Shapiro and Smith the key has been to create a respectful, if not always harmonious, coexistence for their ebullient artistic egos. "I really love dancing with Danny," says Smith, who's done a lot of soul searching on the subject. "I know on a very basic level that I can trust him completely.... We try to stay out of each other's way, which we don't ever do very well, and we battle over who gets to be right. But there's this place we get to when the movement is flowing, where we've gotten the idea across to one another finally." Shapiro is quick to agree, adding, "It's a very complicated set of checks and balances, making up for each other's inadequacies and reinforcing each other's strengths."

The two have found sufficient common ground to collaborate on 28 dances, including works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the PACT Dance Company in South Africa. Their performance for the O'Shaughnessy season shows a flair for humor and drama. The playful "Dance with Two Army Blankets" and lyrical duet "piano" showcase the choreographers' enjoyment of movement for movement's sake, while "Never Enough" and "What Dark/Falling into Light" challenge with surprising, often serious, subject matter.

An ode to childhood nastiness in the tradition of Edward Gorey or Charles Addams, "Never Enough" features a diabolical rhyme penned by Paul Selig, who was, ironically enough, one of the original Sesame Street kids. For Smith, the imagery about taboos is up to personal interpretation. One dancer shaking a doll with her mouth might suggest child abuse, but in Smith's view, she's a young mother. "All she knows is her animal response, carrying her offspring with her teeth."

While "Never Enough" makes its point with black humor, "What Dark/Falling into Light" is a labor of love; it was inspired by Max and Margareta Rosenberg, Shapiro's great-grandparents, who were freed from the Theresienstadt ghetto in exchange for German prisoners during World War II. Confronting the Holocaust through dance proved an exceptional challenge, especially for Shapiro, whose experience was filtered through family memories. The artists found a kindred spirit in playwright David Greenspan, and a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. provided further resources.

The breakthrough, however, came the day Shapiro's mother walked into rehearsal and placed two Stars of David on Smith's lap. These were the stars worn by the Rosenbergs, literal relics that, oddly enough, convinced the artists to create an abstract response to the Holocaust. "There's that button that says 'Remember'," explains Shapiro. "Well, how can you remember what you never knew? Who am I to say 'remember'? If I can't say 'remember,' then what do I say? The piece is about dealing with that."

After O'Shaughnessy, Shapiro and Smith will continue their hectic pace at the U, preparing students for concerts this spring. For Smith, teaching has produced a unique camaraderie, both with the students and with her partner. "The other day I walked into Danny's and my office and he was sitting there in tears," she remembers. "I said, 'What's wrong? What happened?' and he said, 'Betsy Johnson did the most beautiful solo.' It sounds sappy, but it's really quite moving. This to me is what is so important about the work we do here." CP

Shapiro & Smith Dance performs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul; call 690-6700.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >