For all the talk one hears about the reawakening of political consciousness in this country's arts community, there are few issue-oriented choreographers working today whose work rises above rant, rhetoric or weighty messagemaking. Stephan Koplowitz is one of those few. The Brooklyn-based dancemaker, who creates and directs but does not perform in his pieces, has a lot to say about what it means to live, labor and love in this age of too many choices and too few guarantees. He is also a master of communication, wedding words and movement in accessible, seamless ways and employing dancers of varying ages and backgrounds as his eloquent spokesmen.
The program of five works performed this week at Dance Place was received with cheers, prolonged applause and an almost palpable warmth. This reaction was apparent almost from the start, when six teenage boys -- all of them Koplowitz's students at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights -- charmed the crowd with their performance of "I'm Growing," an essay on adolescence. To a tape made up of seriocomic interviews with assorted young men and excerpts from the soundtrack from "Conan the Barbarian," the dancers tear through a vocabulary of movements culled from everyday life -- hair combing, weary trudging, sports imagery, mirror gazing -- but organized in such a way as to make these nonprofessional performers look very smooth indeed. "Nobody ever really grows up," intones one kid on the tape; that's exactly how one feels after experiencing this piece.
"Fall Weather Friend" uses three common queries (Are you my friend? Who are you? Do I know you?) to set off a series of witty physical entanglements amongone man and three women. The repeated falls, embraces, and playful and not-so-playful pushes to a Bach unaccompanied cello suite suggest a spectrum of relationships among acquaintances, friends and lovers. Equally inventive, but infinitely more moving, "I Met Someone" deals with the search for sexual identity. Weaving, rolling and slinking in and out of provocative positions, two men and two women offer telling anecdotes about their changing desires and attitudes vis-a-vis lust, love, marriage, adultery and parenting.
Perhaps the most emotionally resonant piece on the program was "There Were Three Men," an alternately humorous and heart-wrenching peek into the lives of its three superb performers -- Michael Davis, Murray Kelley and Stuart Hodes. Enormous issues -- living in the shadow of AIDS, growing old, miscarriage -- are explored by means of beautifully worded and delivered monologues, spare-but-evocative lifts and conversational gestures, and daffy bursts of song. Koplowitz and his three men have even updated the work since it was performed here two years ago.
The only piece that failed to enthrall completely was "The Adequate Heart," and that's because it was difficult to decipher. What were those five intense souls singing and muttering about into their stand-up mikes? What were all those demonic bursts of dancing about? At times they seemed to be parents simultaneously propping up and tearing down their offspring. At others they may have been those very children, bent on release and self-expression. Inscrutable as it all was, the snaky, show-offy movement and, especially, Koplowitz and Robert Clarida's pulsing score proved absolutely mesmerizing.