In New York, An Unusual Dance Performance

In New York this week, two unlikely groups came together: war veterans and modern dancers. Dancers kicked, twisted and jumped on and around retired airplanes from the 1930s and 1940s in a hangar at Floyd Bennett Field.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This past weekend in New York, modern dancers took over a former military facility. They danced among warplanes for an audience that included members of the military. NPR's Alison Bryce was there and has this story about the show called "Breaking Ground."

ALISON BRYCE: Dante Di Mille is in a hangar at an abandoned airfield in Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn. He volunteers here three days a week giving the public tours of the planes.

Mr. DANTE DI MILLE (Former Air Force Cartographer): We're standing here and looking at a C-47, or more commonly known as a DC-3. That's a twin-engine aircraft. Each engine, they're maybe 2,000 horsepower. I can see it here at Floyd Bennett Field probably the late '30s, early '40s when it was the first viable passenger plane.

BRYCE: During World War II, Di Mille flew planes like this one. But on this day, Dancing in the Streets, an organization that brings dance out of traditional dance settings, makes this airplane take center stage. Di Mille watches nine dancers move around a neighboring plane.

Mr. DI MILLE: And they're going to be coming in momentarily. Here they are, rushing along toward this particular airplane. And now, suddenly, many of them are falling down. OK. Now they seem to be - they have gotten up off the floor. They're beating him at the side of the airplane.

Gunnery Sergeant NELSON HERNANDEZ(ph): I had no idea that this was here. We drove in through the gate, and we saw the sign, and here we are.

BRYCE: Sergeant Nelson Hernandez and five of his colleagues in full camouflage wandered into the performance. Hernandez enjoyed the show, but Dante Di Mille didn't.

Mr. DI MILLE: I'd be perfectly honest with you. I don't completely enjoy it. I don't understand it. I would have liked to have talked to the choreographer and ask how he arrived at a particular point.

BRYCE: Di Mille finds the choreographer, Stephen Koplowitz.

Mr. DI MILLE: Admiring the whole setup, not completely understanding it, where did you pick up the thread?

Mr. STEPHEN KOPLOWITZ (Choreographer, Dancing in the Streets): Well, to be honest Dante, I'd be curious what is it that you see in the work?

Mr. DI MILLE: Now what I saw in it, I saw an aircraft capable of destruction. I saw a particular pilot in some kind of danger.

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: Well, what I was trying to achieve was both to show the power of the machine that is capable of destruction, and I wanted to evoke moments where we experience the cost, the human cost, of warfare.

Mr. DI MILLE: Yes. I felt that one when everyone lay down. I felt that.

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: Hi.

Gunnery Sergeant HERNANDEZ: Gunnery Sergeant Hernandez.

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: Hi. Steve Koplowitz.

BRYCE: Hernandez, just back from Iraq, breaks into the conversation with, bizarrely, the most peaceful interpretation of the dance.

Gunnery Sergeant HERNANDEZ: What I saw was the plane flying, they were the clouds. And also when they're all lined up in the back, it's like the trail that the plane leaves sometimes. It leaves a white trail. I guess some moisture, something in the air. That's what I saw.

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: Wow. And they were clouds. That's - wow, that's really intense.

Gunnery Sergeant HERNANDEZ: That's what I saw.

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: See - now, Dante, this is exactly what I was talking about. I was not thinking about that. But because it's - I was trying to make the work of abstraction on some level. I mean, this is golden.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KOPLOWITZ: You know, your comments about the work make the work for me now.

Gunnery Sergeant HERNANDEZ: Well, I guess that's the beauty of art, right?

BRYCE: A smiling Dante Di Mille seems to have changed his mind. He says he's sorry to see the dancers packed their bags and go home. Alison Bryce, NPR News.

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