Wild Space is in the (Pritzlaff) building
Debra Loewen and I have crossed bridges, toured museums and re-purposed bank buildings, and walked on the bottoms of dry swimming pools. We have wandered among enormous chimneys, all that remained of a vanished locomotive plant, and in an elegant sculpture garden. We have clambered around a yacht.
All have served as stages for Loewen’s Wild Space Dance Company. The latest venue is the Pritzlaff Building, a beautiful complex of Romanesque cream city brick industrial buildings at the corner of Plankinton and St. Paul, on the northwestern edge of the Third Ward.
Fourteen Wild Space dancers will disperse and reassemble in a series of vignettes on the first floors of the east and west buildings and on the cobblestone courtyard in between.
“We’ve been looking at these buildings for three years,” Loewen said. “I saw a MIAD installation here, by Shana McCaw and Brent Budberger, on a Gallery Night. I loved the piece and the place. But then the Menomonee Valley came up, and then Lake Shore State Park…”
Sometimes, Loewen focuses, in these site-specific pieces, on the history of a place or building, as it was recently with the Milwaukee County Historical Society, a former bank building, or her theatricals for the Turner Hall Ballroom. Sometimes, these dances are more about the specific charm and mystery of a place, as with the Layton Sculpture Garden and, it appears, the Pritzlaff. The Pritzlaff complex stands between the Milwaukee River on the east and, at some distance across a large parking lot, the Main Post Office on the west. I-794 is just beyond St. Paul St. to the north. The building, a 19th-century affair banked with arched windows and ceilings that must be 20 feet high, is strangely isolated. It is clean and bright, but oddly quiet.
“It’s sweet to be in such a place,” Loewen said. She finds river traffic appealing in a surreal sort of way. You can’t see the water from the Pritzlaff, but you can see the superstructures of boats gliding by. She and her collaborator, photographer/videographer Tom Bamberger, are going with the building’s surreal vibe.
“No story, no words,” said Loewen, who has often brought literary dimensions to her dances.
Three 10-by-12 foot screens, set side by side, will partially divide the room. Each will have its own program of images, which Bamberger mostly found on the internet. Some he shows as found; he manipulated others in various ways.
“They fade in and out,” Loewen said. “You’ll always be looking for that line-up moment, when the images match. It’s like a slot machine. We’ll be careful to allow space for people to absorb Tom’s images, and we’ll be relatively still in front of them. You could watch them for a long time.”
The music will comprise ambient sounds recorded around the site and the live, un-amplified singing of composer-performer Amanda Schoofs.
The dancing in front of the screens is just a small part of In the Space Between. Dancers will be active across an area of about half a city block. The audience will disperse and move through the building with relative freedom, rather in the way of moving through an art museum. You’ll move around and find the dancers, who will perform more or less continuously.
“The audience is the last thing I have to choreograph,” Loewen said. “I always have to ask what do I want them to do,? What do I want them not to do?”
Sometimes, Loewen arranges chairs to invite the audience to settle in at particular spots. This time: Benches here and there. Sometimes, volunteers act as tour guides and bring the audience or subsets of it to various stations. Not this time.
“I don’t want to herd the audience in this one,” Loewen said. “I want to lead them a little. A dancer might just say, ‘Come with me.'”
She does have a sure-fire way to get people to move out into the courtyard: The bar will be there. Once out there, patrons will notice things going on in the windows on some of the upper stories. A truck-sized garage door will open and something mysterious will play out in the semidarkness beyond. Loewen is sure that this will prompt migration into the west building.
She wants her audience to look at her dancers, but she wants just as much for her audience to really see the architecture and the setting. For her, the site is not just a backdrop, it’s part of the piece.
Loewen put it this way: “At some point, I always have to stop thinking about the dance and start thinking about the place.”
In the Space Between runs 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 15 through 17. $25 for premium ticktes, $20 for general admission, $18 for students and seniors; visit Wild Space’s website. Enter the Pritzlaff Building on the Plankinton Avenue side, via the door with the 325 address.