Tom Strini

Wild Space Dancers amid greenery and steel

By - Sep 7th, 2010 02:05 am
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Debra Loewen: "I think of Peg Bradley sitting right here..."

Debra Loewen: “I think of Peg Bradley sitting right here…”

“Sometimes I think of Peg Bradley sitting right here and seeing this,” said Debra Loewen, as she surveyed the vast, sculpture-dotted lawn. “When I first started this project, I came out and just sat and looked.”

The artistic director of Wild Space Dance Company spoke from the patio behind the home that was a rural getaway for Harry Bradley and spouse Peg, one of Milwaukee’s great art collectors and patrons of the arts. (Click here for TCD’s story and photo gallery on the re-opening of Lynden in May.) Harry and Peg died many years ago; the family foundation has recently made the property more visitor-friendly. It has begun to operate more like a public facility — the Lynden Sculpture Garden— than like a private collection. The foundation commissioned Loewen, who is famous for dances that celebrate locales, to celebrate Lynden. The result is A Place for Everything, which runs at the garden Thursday through Saturday (Sept. 9-11, rain date Sunday) at the garden.

“The biggest challenges were handling the scope of the place, creating things that partner with the sculpture, and not being overwhelmed by the romance of the landscape,” she said. “Beautiful girls, with flowing arms… no. There’s enough beauty here already.”

The place is a heavenly balance of lush, manicured landscape and dozens of sculptures in steel or stone.

“I want people to see an interaction of the sculptural form and the human figure,” she said. “What’s the difference in the mass? Is the body strong against the sculpture, or delicate? We can touch the sculptures, but they’re not jungle gyms, and I like that. The work here is high modernism. It’s serious. There’s no irony. We’re trying to bring out the humanness in it. We’re trying to honor the garden and the sculptures.”

A Place for Everything will be a string of vignettes, with soloists, duos and trios dancing within and about certain works. The audience will follow their progress about the grounds (wear your walking shoes), sometimes assembling in full and sometimes splitting into three groups (but everyone will see everything). Loewen’s special strategy in her big site works is not to impose a dance on the place and command the attention of the viewers, but to arrange dancers to guide eyes to a new vision of the place.

“The big gift of this place is the gift of perspective,” she said, as we left the patio and walked the route that her audiences will walk. “If you stand here and see this piece, you see it in relation to that one. But if you move 15 feet to the side, the relations change. And that’s not even considering the effect of clouds and changing light. As the sun sets, some of these pieces turn red. Some that gleam in midday look matte in the evening.”

She knows that sunset will come at about 7:30 p.m. during the Lynden run, and she intends to use the light of sunset, horizon glow and star- and moonlight with purpose. And Loewen has again called upon Jan Kellogg, stage manager and ingenious lighting designer, to create pools of light around the grounds. Loewen pointed out that the show might offer once-in-a-lifetime views of the work, since the garden is never otherwise open at night, much less shown in theatrical light.

As we walked, Loewen noted the distinct lack of a garden path.

“I’ve watched people get out of their cars this summer, and they don’t know where to go,” Loewen said. “Peg Bradley made that decision, and it’s a particularity of her thinking. It takes a while to decide how to proceed.”

Loewen finally settled on a clockwise route with performance stations along the way. Docents will split the group into thirds and reassemble them as necessary, but Loewen doesn’t intend to herd her audience. She will rely on lights and music in the distance to beckon the crowd. Josh Schmidt, a Milwaukee native and one of the country’s hottest composers, wrote a substantial brass quintet for A Place for Everything. They’ll play live, unamplified.

“Every time you hear them, it will be from a new location,” Loewen said.

The journey will take about an hour, with a little reception following each performance. None of the vignettes will be longer than five minutes. The program rather resembles the tasting menu of a high-end restaurant.

“No one will get tired of standing in one place,” Loewen said. “Each bit is a taste, a glimpse through a window of a human figure relating to a form.”

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (rain date Sunday), Sept. 9-11, Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Road, River Hills. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and $25 for a premium ticket that includes a pre-show talk by historian John Gurda. Visit the Wild Space web site or call 41271-0712. Valet parking $5 additional.

Cast and Credits

Artistic Director and Choreographer: Debra Loewen;  Composer: Josh Schmidt; Performers: Paula Biasi, Michelle DiMeo, Lauren Hafner Addison, Liz Herbst Fransee, Jade Jablonski, Allison Kaminsky, Hannah Marquardt, Joseph Pikalek, Monica Rodero, Dan Schuchart, Jessie Scibek, Yeng Vang-Strath;  Musicians: Kyle Samuelson, Josh Biere, Matt Granatella, Casey Maday, Stephen Orejudos; Lighting Designer and Stage Manager: Jan Kellogg;  Technical Director: Anthony Lyons.

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