What You See is What You Get
Wild Space’s mysterious “Sight Readings” lets audience choose what show they want to see.
There was no wrong way to view “Sight Readings,” the new show by Wild Space Dance Company presented last night at the INOVA gallery.
Audience members were instructed to make our way through designated gallery spaces at our discretion. Music would cue the “end” of each set in a particular gallery, though we were free to wander at will, and really, you can’t exactly call them sets because the dancers do them somewhat differently each time, and there’s no way you can actually see everything in the show.
So it’s an adventure led by your eyes.
While most people stayed in front gallery A or “Sparrows” or front gallery B “Gray Gradient,” a small group ventured to back galleries A (“Source”) and B (“Chester”), where a dark, carpeted hallway beckoned us rather than the wide, concrete sleekness of the front rooms.
I found myself one of only three people on a long bench, facing the wall in the dark. It would be the only set I’d watch all the way through, choosing to stand and wander through the rest of Sight Readings.
Source began with four female dancers slowly emerging from behind a wall to the right. One placed a small headlamp on the floor ahead of them for a touch of light. They continued to take their time, staring into the distance as a quiet wind-whistle played seemingly from nowhere. They moved in a pack, taking turns breaking off and moving with a bent-elbow, crouching sort of style before moving back into the group.
Two dancers shared the space now, reaching for and grabbing one another, searching each other’s limbs, falling back into the other’s arms and moving as one. The effect of touch carried a certain thrill, and every so often a headlamp’s beam landed on the disco ball for a quick flash of scattered light.
Throughout Sight Readings, the dancers mill around as often as the audience, quietly joining a set before you realize they had scooted right past you. I essentially ignored the musical cues in the rest of the show, and the difference in experience was immediately apparent.
I stood at the back of Sparrows for a bit, watching dancers slide their bodies against the wall, bend and sway in place, consider their hands as they extended them.
I backed up a few paces and now had a split-screen view of Sparrows and Gradient, and here’s where I could feel my brain lighting up. Look at that! Wait no, I’m liking this now. Wow that dancer’s beautiful. Is this improv? If this is improv they’re doing an amazing job. Oooh look at these two dancers sync up, I love this.
I couldn’t help thinking of ADD. and the ever-present distractions we create for ourselves. The fact that most of the performers were young UW-Milwaukee Dance Department majors added to that sense of wild, scattered brain synapses common in our world today. But that was my fleeting response to a show that could be taken to mean any number of things.
When I did pin down my focus, shining moments made my heart flutter. Gray Gradient had two dancers running and dipping between each other, effortlessly gliding from one position to the next, always well inside each other’s bubble without ever seeming intrusive. Toward the end of the night, I caught a glimpse in the same space of two dancers facing the wall, each with one arm in the air and the other patting it quickly from armpit to wrist.
Chester in back gallery B featured a couch and a video backdrop of a white cat’s face. This was the goofiest of the sets, as three dancers moved in comedic variations on the couch, with many movements mimicking a cat’s.
I much preferred the start of this set, when they sat facing the audience and absent mindedly ran their fingers through their ponytails in unison. Sometimes it’s the human tics that catch you more than anything else —shrugging at your friend, getting the crick out of your elbow, reaching for something in front of you. When a dancer’s doing it, forget it. It’s gorgeous.
One aspect of Sight Readings irked me. The cast is female, save for two men. While one of them put on a solo performance called “Extended Play,” never interacting with the women, the other performed with the group and his presence created a gender line I didn’t enjoy. Most of his interactions with the dancers looked like he was correcting them—he bent their arms to his liking, or positioned two dancers together, all but stepping back to nod and admire his work. I can’t say if having more men would’ve alleviated the feeling I was getting, but certainly just having one making these “corrections” created an obvious effect.
Regardless, the sense of wandering freedom created by artistic director Debra Loewen was effective, fresh and just a bit mysterious. The dancers clearly connected with each other and brought a refreshing energy to this space. I doubt any audience members missed having a traditional stage.
“Sight Readings” will again be performed at 7 and 8:15 p.m. Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1, at INOVA gallery, 2155 N. Prospect Ave.