“There are several different pieces on the show, but the most important work is titled ‘Burning Air’,” Shapiro & Smith artistic director Joanie Smith said in a recent phone interview.
Smith explained that the play is “loosely based” on the Great Hinckley (Minn.) Fire of 1894. In one particularly evocative scene, the dance is intended to portray people standing in about 18 inches of water, alongside of local cattle and wild animals all seeking refuge from the surrounding flames.
“These images are very powerful for us,” Smith said.
“It was literally a firestorm,” Smith said of that 1894 fire, which burned 350,000 acres – over 400 square miles – of forest land and claimed the lives of more than 415 men, women. and children as well as countless pets, livestock and wildlife.
Smith also noted that the exact number of people who died in that fire was still unknown, as during this time period, Native American lives lost were not counted in the official tally.
Smith said she and some of her fellow dancers thought the timing of this piece was particularly fitting, with the recent wildfires in Canada sending unpleasantly smoky air through Minnesota at various times this summer, as well as the more recent fire that sent clouds of black smoke across downtown Detroit Lakes last Friday.
While undoubtedly tragic, said Smith, the play “Burning Air” is also meant to evoke emotions of hope and faith. Other pieces performed during the two-hour show will evoke romance, inspiration and even comedy.
“There’s this piece, called ‘Shirt’… it’s about a bunch of men negotiating and busting about for a bunch of shirts,” Smith said, adding that the performance was intentionally humorous. “It was totally inspired by my dogs.”
Smith explained that her three dogs were known to fight and argue over a toy they didn’t even notice until she picked it up and called attention to it. “It’s really, really funny.”
In another more poignant piece, titled “To Have and To Hold,” the dancers evoke a sense of romance and what it really means to lose a loved one. Although it was choreographed by Smith and her husband, Danial Shapiro, several years earlier, the play took on special significance after her death from cancer in 2006 at the age of 48.
“It’s about trying to grab hold of the important people in your life and hold on to them,” she said, adding, “We miss him so much.”
Although they will only do one show at the theater during the trip, the dancers of Smith’s troupe will actually be in Detroit Lakes for several days this week, working with dancers from Northern Lights Dance of Frazee and Summit Dance of Detroit Lakes as well as seniors from the Silver Sneakers program at Ecumen Detroit Lakes and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center, as well as the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center.
“It’s the kind of thing we really love to do,” Smith said of their outreach work; their appearance at the Holmes Theater, as well as outreach programs, are funded by a touring grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, she added.
If you are going to
What: Shapiro & Smith dance
When: Thursday September 16, 7:30 p.m.
Or: Historic Holmes Theater, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
How? ‘Or’ What: Tickets cost $ 15 for adults, $ 7.50 for students and can be purchased by calling the Holmes Box Office at 218-844-7469 or by reserving your seats online at dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html.