This Is So Good

Why I loved Wild Space’s “All About Life.”

By - May 2nd, 2014 10:18 am
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Wild Space. Dan Schuchart. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Dan Schuchart. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

There’s no all-encompassing word for the way Wild Space dances – soothing yet electrifying, funny yet subtle, smart yet unpretentious. But whatever the descriptor, the feeling you get watching Wild Space Dance Company will make you want to grasp the hand of the stranger next to you and simply say, “this is so good.”

Last night’s performance of “All About Life,” at the MIlwaukee Rep’s Steimke studio, lived up to that title with a sweeping if enigmatic storyline,  from the humdrum everyday to the bigger (and smaller) epiphanies we all experience.

All About Life opened with two dancers lying on their backs, knees raised and heads toward the audience. They bent their limbs slowly and rocked gently before rolling over and rolling back, never in a hurry. An odd reading played as they moved – something like a Billy Collins poem-that turned into a kind of mantra that managed to hypnotize and then yank you back with a line like “there is no one right to do the dishes.” The piece was brief and effective, a perfect prologue.

The sound transitioned into a track of chirping birds and distant sounds of children playing. Collaborating choreographer Dan Schuchart moved slowly onto the now-empty stage, looking sky-ward. The company followed, in bright spring dresses and blue jeans, leaning down to inspect imaginary critters on the ground, staring plaintively into the distance, moving in small groups like tentative kids on the first day of school. Another quiet and intriguing step into the story.

Wild Space. Emily Zakrzewski [l] and Monica Rodero [r]. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Emily Zakrzewski [l] and Monica Rodero [r]. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Next, collaborator Monica Rodero delivered a charming soliloquy while moving about it with simple hand gestures, hip twists and crouches. She described the realization she had as a kid that she’d only have one life; that she couldn’t in fact be a teacher and a mermaid, a boy in New Zealand, and a prom queen in Kansas. She was conversational and matter-of-fact, not lamenting, before trailing off with a very natural exit.

Then came the meaty middle of the work. Collaborator Mauriah Kraker performed a searching, graceful solo before being joined by the company for a series of chapters. At times, snippets of The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman filled the space with musings on human nature. Sometimes it was utterly silent. Sometimes an atmospheric collage moved in, or a goofy track about getting older. No matter the soundscape, the dancers filled the stage with a great contemplative energy.

Most stunning to me was a piece backdropped by The Books, a band that stitches together ethereal music and sound bytes to create soulful experimental tracks. The song worked beautifully as the dancers moved everywhere all at once, yet arriving just in time to catch a falling partner before dashing across the stage. They were playful, but in a deft and compelling manner. The thing that Wild Space does best is to fill you up – when the company is performing all at once, there’s no way you’ll catch everything. But you’re never overwhelmed; your eye catches moments that all line up in their own way, so that every audience member may have a slightly different experience.

Wild Space. Mauriah Kraker. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Mauriah Kraker. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Another stand-out was a duet between Kraker and Schuchart near the end of the program. They oscillated between smooth and herky-jerky, lightly considering each other before coming together in odd, stuttering lifts. They’d find themselves stuck together, as if they’d rushed at each other without realizing what would happen. I was unfamiliar with the accompanying track – a song that grew in its slightly aggressive sound, carrying the dancers as they toppled over each other and slowly charged, poised for a head-butt. Despite the hard edges, the whole thing was very romantic, capturing the complications of relationships.

All About Life closed with a sweet and reflective piece, accompanied again by The Accidental Universe. The lights were all but turned out and stars appeared to float on the backdrop screen. The dancers simply curled up on the floor, lightly rocking back and forth at times, surrounding a boombox that wove an instrumental track into Alan Lightman’s contemplative text. I was reminded of childhood campouts, of simpler times, of growing up.

Which are all very nice things to remember.




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