Wild Space Dance 25th bash
Artistic director Debra Loewen, dancers present and past, audience and friends celebrate a quarter-century of Wild Space dance.
The Wild Space event Saturday night was equal parts dance concert, nostalgic class reunion and birthday party.
The occasion marked the company’s 25th anniversary, all those years under founding artistic director Debra Loewen. The assembly, which filled the Turner Hall ballroom, rose in ovation when Loewen stepped to the microphone at the beginning and again when she danced a solo at the end. Loewen rarely performs these days, but she was lithe and lovely in a solo woven from bits and pieces of dances she’s made for herself and others over the last decades.
The current company, of 10 women, alternated with alums who came to Turner Hall from near and far. They danced to recorded music or to music played live by Ms Fun or, in one case, Seth Warren-Crow. Loewen arranged and paced the show well; the wildly disparate parts felt like a whole.
Sometimes she separated numbers with simple blackouts, sometimes she connected them with clever transitions. In the new Here, the 10 women in the company — cool and sexy in little black dresses — glided along over a cool-jazz beat. As geometries formed and dissolved, dancers exited and re-entered with folding chairs. They became props in the piece, then were left on stage in a neat formation. Female alums, generally of more distant vintage, swept in, some with kids in tow, to occupy those chairs and participate in a charming seated dance.
Charm abounded on this program, and no one was more charming than alums Monica Rodero and Dan Schuchart. They did And, one of their talking numbers, in which mimetic illustrations of their words grow into organized gestures which grow into real dances. They began by moving chairs off stage, moved on to a chat, and the chat became a funny dance involving the elaborate passing back and forth of a teacup and saucer and a cupcake. Eventually, Loewen slipped in to join them, then stayed for her solo. Another clever transition.
The alumni guest bits were a uneven in quality. Originals David Figueroa, Tom Thoreson and Diane VanDerhei engaged in some contact improv that was more fun to do than to watch, but it was fun watching them have fun. Likewise with the somewhat more polished and much more athletic workout by Dani Kuepper and Joe Pikalek. Lauren Hafner Addison and Cassandra Motta were lots of fun and very focused in Call Collect. Addison is bookish and proper, and Motta is the explosive, impatient fireball. They annoy each other until they come to a happy compromise and a stretch of carefree dancing in parallel, most of it seated. Gray Map, the curiosity of the evening, placed Laura Murphy in front of an abstract film by Barbara Robertson, with sound design by Wild Space alum Johanna Melamed. The abstraction, suggestive of microscopic life forms, played over Murphy’s body as she moved, as her shadow played over the images on the screen behind her. In the coda, she moved closer and closer to the projector and thus cast a larger and larger shadow on the screen behind her. The piece ended when she blotted out the light entirely. Nifty. Katie Sopoci and Javier Marchan-Ramos moved through their Locale like a couple of crouching tigers. Sopoci, showed a sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.
Solos by Michelle DiMeo and Jade Jablonski highlighted the evening. In her From Afar, DiMeo displayed breathtaking full-body elasticity as she traveled with an irresistible animal avidity. She added suspense by rising to tipping points, then holding balance gracefully. She released into high-velocity falls and beautiful, cushioned, silent landings.
Jablonski reprised her surreal Artifacts, first danced as part of a site-specific Wild Space concert in the Milwaukee County Historical Society in January of 2011. Then, she did it in the confines of a bank vault, with the audience at very close quarters. It becomes a very different piece on the proscenium stage. Jablonski scaled it up, and Artifacts filled the big ballroom as intensely as it filled the claustrophobic vault.
What a remarkable and varied evening this was, and what a fitting acknowledgment of Loewen’s remarkable talent, vision and tenacity. Congratulations, Deb. I’m glad I was around to see it all, and I look forward to the rest of Wild Space.