Shapiro & Smith Dance Co. celebrates 25 years

Megan McClellan and Eddie Oroyan in "Family"
Megan McClellan and Eddie Oroyan in "Family"
Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

"Family" is a dance centered on an impossibly large armchair. It gets moved around the stage as Shapiro & Smith dancers pose, flip, and balance around it in a swirl of changing relationships. The piece was created in the company's second year. It was the first dance founders Joanie Smith and Danny Shapiro created that wasn't a duet, says Smith, who has been the sole artistic director since Shapiro's death in 2006.

This weekend, the company will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The initial impetus for the work was Shapiro's huge family and home, which was a big house with lots of little rooms. In the piece, they tried to capture the "three ring circus" quality of his family life. The centerpiece of the dance is the large armchair, which moves around the stage to different rooms of the house.  

It was Smith who had the idea to take her grandmother's chair as an entry point into the concept of family. "We had done a piece on children's furniture," she says, so they had already been playing in a "furniture world."

Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

When Shapiro & Smith began touring "Family," they made a new chair in the image of Smith's grandmother's chair. It could be broken down into seven parts, each about the size of a suitcase. They traveled all over the United States, Italy, and Mexico with each dancer checking a piece of the chair along with their luggage. Unfortunately, since 9/11 it has become more difficult to take "furniture dances" on tour because of the exorbitant luggage fees that airlines now charge, she says. 

"But because it's our anniversary, we wanted to bring the older works back," Smith says. She thought the piece would be a compliment to the other dances they are showing.

Danny Shapiro and Joanie Smith met at UCLA in the 1980s. Smith was in graduate school, while Shapiro was a sophomore, and six years younger. "I paid him no mind," she recalls. He was interested in her, of course, but she was "busy dating the artists in residence," she says. 

Later, Smith went to New York and auditioned for Murray Louis, where Shapiro was auditioning as well. They both were cast with the company, and even more, they were to dance eight duets together. 

"We fought our way through them," Smith says, referring to the duets." But then, when they were on tour, she fell in love with him. "He and I shared everything," she says. 
Eddie Oroyan, Scott Metille and Drew Lester in 'Family'
Eddie Oroyan, Scott Metille and Drew Lester in 'Family'
Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

Together, the couple formed Shapiro & Smith Dance Company, and went on to create internationally recognized work together for nearly 20 years, until Shapiro's death in 2006. 

When Shapiro died, Smith says she didn't even know if she could choreograph by herself. "It turns out, I guess I can," she says. She works collaboratively with company dancers in a way that is similar to how she worked with her former partner.  

In re-visiting "Family," the company watched videos where he and former dancers appear. "It's hard," she says. "We all think that they are dancing with us."

While it's been a struggle to continue with the company without her partner, Smith says that she's having a wonderful time with her fantastic group of performers. The dancers of the company have stepped into Shapiro's role of collaborating with Smith, and provide the athleticism that Shapiro exhibited. "They are in their prime," she says. "They have stamina, chutzpa, bravery, and subtle range and maturity."  

Besides "Family," Shapiro & Smith will be premiering "Voices," which includes five former Shapiro & Smith dancers and guest artists who have created "dance phrases or encounters" set to live music by the Orange Mighty Trio. The contributors include Mathew Janczewski, Erin Thompson, Wilson Mendieta, Uri Sands, and Carl Flink. Another premiere is a new solo created and performed by Smith along with longtime collaborators composer Scott Killian and writer David Greenspan. The company will also be reprising two pieces from last season -- "Pat A Cake" and "Bolero."


Shapiro & Smith Dance Company
Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.206.3600
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets are $20

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The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

528 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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