Wild Space Dance’s Trace Elements at Turner Hall
The small but skillful group of dancers combined with ingenious site-specific choreographer and Artistic Director Debra Loewen to once again mesmerize the audience at Milwaukee’s historic Turner Hall Ballroom last weekend. Building on the landmark building’s Germanic Turner tradition of “Sound Body/Sound Mind,” the performance developed its own surrealistic mindset filled with a few minutes of emotional angst. Loewen merged vintage city spaces into the intriguing performance titled Trace Elements, energizing an innovative format with six separate programs appearing simultaneously for Wild Space Dance Company.
In the hall’s lower gymnasium, six separate spaces were created so that the audience rotated through each viewing or dance station. Yet, while only one five-minute program captured the eye’s attention at a time, each of the distinct experiences overlapped and connected as unique sounds resounded throughout the rooms to add a psychological element.
Dancers precariously twisted on high rigs used for climbing walls, ascending on rings or ropes dressed in black gowns. The supple bodies dangled over horizontal bars, gracefully soared on trampolines, spun and even talked. The dynamic performances, several of which were set in very tiny viewing spaces where only the dancer’s feet or head could be seen, embodied the essence of a Rene Magritte painting in fractured realism.
They often incorporated mirrored movements, exaggerated facial expressions and absurd dialogue in vignettes that toyed with the hazy subconscious and dream-like experience — unable to be explained, but tucked away in memories. These “dances” vividly expressed Loewan’s choreographic imagination recreated those split-second moments.
After a short intermission, the entire audience moved to the main ballroom where two fencers occupied the floor. The company finally re-appeared from behind an artfully arranged stacked chair setting at the rear of the hall while the audience watched from the actual elevated stage. Dancers emerged and disappeared into black nothingness. Costumed in full-skirt dresses and tuxedoes, they made silhouettes against towering walls and coved ceiling to suggest a ghostly, spiritual atmosphere.
This second act, still attuned to this Past/Present title, featured a more traditional dance program accompanied by the music of creaking doors, carnival tunes from beer gardens, German lyrics and an unusual variety of compositions. Alluring couplings, lifts and choreographed sequences flowed into one another, appearing to float mysteriously around the cavernous space.
While the physical logistics for the unusual program presented a few tight squeezes onto small benches or left the audience standing, there was only appreciation at the end of the evening. With a mere three performances a year, Wild Space Dance Company provides Milwaukee with inventive performance art very infrequently, much to the our regret. To the point of dwindling art funds, Loewen asked at the end of the evening to show extra support by having patrons toss donations into open umbrellas.