Tom Strini

Wild Space made me happy

By - Apr 22nd, 2010 11:35 pm

At the end of Speaking of Happiness, the eight Wild Space dancers place hands on shoulders and form a conga line, but don’t dance a conga. They move to a relaxed, vaguely East European folk waltz, in odd little steps just technical enough to be interesting and just easy enough to look like fun.

Schuchart and Rodero. Photo courtesy of the Wild Space Dance website.

Schuchart and Rodero. Photo courtesy of the Wild Space Dance website.

They’re an affectionate little tribe in this vignette, the very picture of happy communal endeavor, and the feeling is contagious. Everyone seemed to be smiling as they left the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Theater Thursday — a fit ending for a show that takes a wise look at the elusive concept of happiness.

Co-choreographers Debra Loewen, Monica Rodero and Dan Schuchart argue, through movement, that it’s the little things in life that count. No soaring love duets, fancy costumes, big jumps or grand gestures here. The company, decked out in scruffy street clothes and bare feet, exposes intimate gestures and small human interactions.

The sentiments of the dance are warmth and tolerance. The stance is wry and resigned, and the approach is almost as theatrical as dancerly. The idiom is loosely athletic and involves lots of close physical contact, which was with two exceptions friendly rather than erotic.

The dancers talk quite a bit, and their faces are important, both of which are risky. These dancers remain steadfastly unaffected and never reach for pathos or a cheap laugh. They’re honest in the moment 100% of the time and because of it are funny and  touching, more so as you get to know them.

Speaking of Happiness unfolds in 24 overlapping, wildly varied episodes across 80 unbroken minutes. It would be tedious to describe them all, but here is a sampler:

Angela Frederick instructing Javier Marchán in the art of the embrace. He turns out to be a poor student (“No, no, now you’re pulling my hair…. Um, you’re standing on my foot…”). The physical aspect of this comedy routine develops into an in-place dance of exquisite awkwardness.

•Rodero and Schuchart dance slow, close duet made ever so delicate by this requirement: They must frequently exchange a cupcake without extinguishing the flame on the birthday candle that adorns it.

•The same two making out passionately while Yeng Vang-Strath calmly observes as she eats an ice-cream cone, as if she had stopped before a cage at a zoo.

•Three women keep their bottoms in their chairs as they chase the table that Schuchart and Marchán keep whisking away. It’s funny, but would a secure place at the table make them happy?

•Two women carry a litter bearing wine glasses filled with water to various levels. A third woman gently strokes the glasses to produce musical tones. As they slowly make their way across the stage, you realize that she’s playing Ode to Joy from Beethoven‘s Ninth.

•With all its theatricality, Speaking of Happiness does offer some real and beautiful dancing. Michelle diMeo‘s sinuous solo is a marvel of expressive flexibility and strength through the middle of the body. And I loved the clever way Rodero and Schuchart’s close partnering captured the speech rhythm from the airport farewell scene in Casablanca.

The soundtrack, apparently assembled by Loewen, could not be more quirky or more apt. She wove together bits of survey questions about happiness, all manner of music from Stravinsky to Donovan, and text excerpts from Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Kahnman and Malcolm Gladwell. The sound gave the show momentum. And it gave the dancers words to play from and quirky rhythm to drive quirky movement.

This subtle, ingratiating show never bowls you over. It draws you in. It is ingenious in a thousand small ways and demonstrates that little things mean a lot. They can make you happy for 80 minutes and maybe all the way home.

In addition to those mentioned above, the irresistibly lovable cast includes Lauren Hafner Addison and Liz Herbst Fransee.

Wild Space will repeat Speaking of Happiness at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Stiemke, 108 E. Wells. Tickets are $25 and $20, $15 for seniors and students. Call The Rep’s box office, 414-224-9490, or visit the Wild Space website.

Click here for an interview with the three choreographers.

0 thoughts on “Review: Wild Space made me happy”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a beautifully written review…. the pace of the review and the words you chose calmed me and made me blissfully wistful by the end . Nice that the review is an peaceful extension of the “happiness” performance itself.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Melissa. Actually, I spread bliss wherever I go. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    I hope Wildspace sells out tonight. Everyone interested in dance should see this.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The dancer/musician playing ‘Ode to Joy’ on the glasses is Lauren Hafner Addison. I met her at the reception last night and found out that she has to tune them each night by cleaning and adding water just before the lights go up. Apparently evaporation and sediments in the water can effect the tune of the set.

    I loved the show!

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