Tom Strini

Dancing Upstairs, Downstairs at Turner Hall

By - Sep 16th, 2009 05:53 pm
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Debra Loewen, on the pommelhorse at the Turner Hall gym

Debra Loewen, on the pommelhorse at the Turner Hall gym

Debra Loewen’s Wild Space Dancers will be all over the uneven parallel bars, the trampoline, the ropes and the climbing walls in the Turner Hall gym Friday and Saturday. Then they’ll change out of their workout clothes, get into tuxes and ball gowns, and climb to the hall’s second-floor ballroom.

In the gym, the audience will split into groups of 25. Each group will make its way through six stations of activity, to view dances that put the devices of Turnverein physical kultur to unusual uses. Each experience will be isolated and intimate, as the activity bays, as Loewen calls them, will be screened off from one another with 11-foot screens or hanging curtains.

“We’ll use the apparatus, but with a different intent,” Loewen said, during a walk-through in the old basement gym. We’ll keep the tricks down and find the musicality of it. The challenge is not to do the obvious on anything.”

Activity at each station will last five minutes. Then a bell will ring, and the audience will move on to the next.

Dancers hanging around at the gym

Dancers hanging around at the gym

The action in the gym will vertical, all about jumping, hoisting, balancing and climbing. At least one part will have a surreal aspect: A dancer will occupy a chair 15 feet off the floor, attached to a climbing wall.

Before I could even ask  her to climb to the chair to pose for a picture, Loewen said: “I’m not going up there; afraid of heights.”

Wild Space dancers, roped up and airborne at Turner Hall

Wild Space dancers, roped up and airborne at Turner Hall

Fortunately, Rick Clark, Wild Space’s manager, is not. Clark is also the director climbing operations at Turner Hall and will make sure that none of the dancers takes a fall. Clark’s presence smoothed the way for Loewen, who has used Turner Hall’s ballroom several times and loves to make site-specific dances.

“In gyms, people do all these feats of physicality, but they never go anywhere,” Loewen said. “That’s the nature of apparatus.”

In the ballroom, the dancers will move through space — or try to.

“As some dancers attempt to move, others will block and thwart them,” Loewen said.

That’s something you don’t see at dance concerts every day: Defense.

Music will help tie together upstairs and downstairs. Loewen said it’s very German, with lots of Kurt Weill. When the dance moves to the ballroom, recorded sounds of jumping on the trampoline will be mixed in with the German songs.

“Downstairs, everything will be isolated and fractured,” Loewen said. “Upstairs, we have the social life and unity. The piece will have both the physical and social aesthetics that have always gone on in this building.”

What: Debra Loewen’s “Trace Elements”

Who: Wild Space Dance Company

Where: Turner Hall, 1034 N. 4th St.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 18-19); preconcert talks with Bob Teske, of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, at 6 p.m.  Friday and 6:45 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday.

How Much: Friday, including the Turner Fish-Fry special, $40; regular tickets Friday and Saturday, $25 and $20, $15 for seniors and students. Call Wild Space, 414-271-0712.

Categories: Culture Desk, Dance

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