Brew City Dreams Impressive, Ultimately Incomplete

Wild Space Dance Company’s premiere has some arresting moments, but turns out oddly disjointed.

By - Sep 15th, 2014 03:19 pm
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Emily Zakrzewski jumping in the foreground, with Cari Allison in the shadows and Chloe Nagle and Kelly Radermacher crouching at the edge. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

Emily Zakrzewski jumping in the foreground, with Cari Allison in the shadows and Chloe Nagle and Kelly Radermacher crouching at the edge. Photo by Matt Schwenke.

At Wild Space Dance Company’s season premiere, the 5th floor of the Schlitz Stock House felt as classically Wild Space as anything – providing a glimpse of our familiar Milwaukee through panoramic windows and surprising us with the transformation of a seemingly unusable space.

However, a sense of incompleteness weighed on the evening, and not because of the stark, unfinished site. I’d argue that each component of Brew City Dreams lingered in the grey area of “not enough,” which caused the performance to stretch on toward no discernible conclusion. In other words, it felt long. And while there were clear moments of brilliance along the way, somehow the sum of its parts didn’t add up to a whole.

By far the most inventive part of Brew City Dreams was the accompanying soundscape, written by Tim Russell and performed by Colin O’Day and Bob Schaab. O’Day and Schaab pounded mallets on an array of glass bottles, triangles and bells, at times also blowing air across larger glass jugs and rolling the glass across the concrete floor for that tinkling runaway noise. The effect was dreamy and sort of underground, giving the sense of having stumbled into a cave where somebody’s home.

But while the score in itself was odd and impressive, I don’t think it was handled well in the context of the dance. O’Day and Schaab played a long set before the dancers even arrived on stage, which I realize established the framework for their continued interjection but which, again, was too drawn out. And then, the dancers arrived without the accompaniment, carrying paper bag lanterns in dead silence that felt unnecessary at the time. Throughout the performance, O’Day and Schaab would re-enter with a new composition – but it all seemed too random, and the problem there is that of course, it wasn’t. There was a plan in place, sheets of music in front of the musicians and subtle cues from the dancers to drop back in after long spans of silence. The performance suffered from too many crescendos, all of them brought on by the re-up of the score. At several points a finale felt imminent, but the dance carried on, leaving us to settle in to our seats repeatedly.

Perhaps this too was a decision that affected the audience’s experience – we were seated. Many of Wild Space’s site-specific performances tend toward the “choose your own adventure” model, allowing us to roam at will and find different vantage points. Here, we were allowed one vantage point in which the dancers moved in and out. Of course you were free to turn your head, and with the dancers scattered about the space in endless combinations throughout the performance, it wasn’t as if our choices were limited. But then again, the choice felt somewhat made for us – a pillar in your way was a pillar in your way, forcing your eye to move to an open dancer.

Fortunately, the dancing was wonderful, as your eye traveled from quadrant to quadrant. Dancers Cari Allison, Angela Frederick, Laura Murphy, Chloe Nagle, Kelly Radermacher and Emily Zakrzewski tended toward the irregular, submitting to an exaggerated gravitational pull and at times using one another as opponents, challenging another with running charges and sweeping, slicing arm movements.

Then, within the same frame, you’d glimpse a duo or trio sweetly intertwined, supporting the other’s weight and curiously tilting their head at the odd motions set forth by their interference. Dancers found themselves exploring a lone corner alone, or moving lackadaisically from one end of the room to the other. Choreography was repeated randomly throughout the space, creating the sense of a round that had lost its time signature.

Brew City Dreams was full of small, bright moments. There was just something about the whole that didn’t come together in a satisfying way.

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