Tom Strini

Wild Space Dance takes us on a pleasant trip

By - Apr 14th, 2011 11:32 pm
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(L to R)- Monica Rodero, Angela Frederick, Allison Kaminsky, Liz Herbst Fransee, Dan Schuchart, Yeng Vang Strath, and Jessie Mae Scibek. Photo courtesy of Wild Space Dance Company by Matt Schwenke.

(L to R)- Monica Rodero, Angela Frederick, Allison Kaminsky, Liz Herbst Fransee, Dan Schuchart, Yeng Vang Strath, and Jessie Mae Scibek. Photo courtesy of Wild Space Dance Company by Matt Schwenke.

Sometimes, when you travel by train or car, you can get into a certain groove and take in the passing landscape in a profound way. You don’t have to be in the Rockies to feel it; it can be Illinois. It’s not about drama, it’s about rhythm and a certain tranquil awareness of passing time and passing places. The Wild Space Dance Company‘s How to Get from Here to There, likewise, is not about virtuosic dancing or complicated steps. The point of watching is to get with its lulling rhythm and fall in with its odd charms for 75 unbroken minutes.

Travel is the theme of the show, which opened Thursday night at the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Theater. Debra Loewen, Dan Schuchart and Monica Rodero conceived it, with a lot of input from the dancers. It starts with a GPS mechanical voice guiding Schuchart and Rodero through a witty duet, as they respond cleverly to such instructions as “turn left at the elbow.”

Language has equal importance with movement in this piece. Voice over, read by Bill Finn and Libby Amato and drawn from Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, pops up a lot. The dancers speak, too. Generally, as the words spin by, the dance activity settles into quiet vamping, rather like background music. That makes sense, as it’s very difficult to grasp poetic text and busy dancing at the same time.

Dan Schuchart. Matt Schewenke photo for Wild Space.

The dancers — Liz Herbst Fransee, Angela Frederick, Allison Kaminsky, Jessie Mae Scibek and Yeng Vang-Strath, in addition to Schuchart and Rodero — perked up when the music came up. The musical selections, as per usual with Loewen productions, was quirky and diverse, ranging from a whistled rendition of Beethoven’s Für Elise to music by Nine Inch Nails. Mostly, the music had a beat, and mostly the dancers danced to the beat, which is not always the case with Loewen and company.

The movement, generally, was as casual as the Saturday-afternoon street clothing the dancers wore amid a stage strewn with crumpled maps. Strolling abounded, along with loopy, loose-limbed phrases and scruffy, contact-improv style partnering. Truth be told, the dancing’s a little tedious at first glance. But the closer you look, the more you see in it. In one early full-ensemble piece, for example, it slowly becomes apparent that different locations on the stage evoke certain movements associated with travel. When dancers found themselves downstage right, they were required to wave. Downstage left called for seasick reeling and wobbling. Down center, smiling and beckoning the audience, as one would beckon a small child. It was fun to puzzle out these subtleties and connect the gestures to the travel theme.

Strategically placed break-out dances popped liked neon roadside attractions in an otherwise placid landscape. Vang-Strath danced a long solo as graceful and curvilinear as beautiful cursive penmanship. Scibek showed great thrust in a jabbing, athletic solo. Rodero started her solo by describing and pointing at various scars and other marks on her body and describing how they got there. (“My sister did that one.”) Then she expanded the indicative gestures into a very compelling dance. The whole company took turns forming fast-moving mazes and the intrepid explorer within those mazes, to the Indiana Jones theme.

My favorite bit was not a dance at all. Kaminsky recited, with ever-rising vehemence and rhythmic emphasis, a series of kitchen instructions from hand-washing to onion-dicing. As she did so, she added ever-more intense mime and vocal sound effects. Instructions are maps of sorts, right? So it fit. Sort of.

Kaminsky bought into her oddball solo completely, and that made it work. The company as a whole, to their credit, buys into material whose appeal might not be immediately obvious, and they win you over. Kansas, you know, can be charming — if you know how to look at it.

How to Get from Here to There repeats at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, at the Rep’s Stiemke Theater. Tickets are $25 and $20, $15 for students. Call the Rep’s box office, 414 224-9490. For more information, visit the Wild Space website.

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