At the start of Stuart Pimsler's new work, "Ways to Be Hold," a man admires his old coat. Soon several dancers are on stage each in their own old coat, holding it close as they thread back and forth between each other, crowded but never touching.
They walk with short, quick mincing steps, as though their feet were bound in the old Japanese style.
The movement evolves, and now couples are pushing and pulling each other. One dancer tries to push off another's coat and get underneath, as if to get under their skin, but her partner resists.
Another dancer reaches forward, arms outstretched toward the audience, while her partner pulls her back by the waist.
Choreographer Stuart Pimsler explains some movements are more literal, while others are more abstract.
"The ones that are more abstract are meant to show the emotional underbelly of what's going on," said Pimsler. "This desire at times to be held by somebody, to be hidden in somebody's embrace. And when does that become too much?"
"Ways to Be Hold" doesn't limit itself to intimate relationships and one person's overwhelming desire to hold and be held by someone else.
What starts as a dance between partners transforms slowly into a meditation on American foreign policy. Pimsler is exploring how we as a country cling to notions of who we are and our place in the world, and what other countries must endure to sustain our quality of life.
"Given how comfortable my own life is," Pimsler said, "and given the comforts I see around me every day in our culture, I wonder how much comfort is OK to have amidst things that are going on in the world that are violent, where we're taking other people's lives, where we're imposing judgments in a part of the world that we've decided needs to be corrected."
Pimsler calls himself an old hippie. He remembers the outrage of protestors staging demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.
“I wonder how much comfort is OK to have amidst things that are going on in the world that are violent.”Stuart Pimsler
Now that the U.S. military has been in Iraq for five years, and countless soldiers and civilians have died, he wonders where's the outrage now?
Pimsler, along with his co-director and life partner Suzanne Costello, have long worked to create dances that are both intimate and speak to universal themes.
Former choreographer and freelance writer Linda Shapiro first saw a performance of Stuart Pimsler's work back in the 1980s. She was reviewing companies applying for grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. That night the company performed "Swimming to Cecille," a work about the death of Stuart's mother.
"I realized at the end of it I hadn't written down a word on my notepad, because I was so completely involved with what was going on on stage," recalled Shapiro. "It was such a mix of pathos and wonderful text -- it was very theatrical. And I think those are some of the things that have defined his work ever since."
Shapiro finds it's the layers of theater, text and movement that make Pimsler's work so rich, as well as his courage to address society's ills.
"In some ways I think he's become the social and political conscience of dance in this area," laughed Shapiro. "There's always that element in his work. There's always a sort of connection to a wider community."
Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater will premiere "Ways to Be Hold" this weekend at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.
The following weekend's performances will feature a return of the company's recent creation, "The Ends of Love."