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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wild Space Dance Creates ‘Happiness’

Dance Review

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Speaking of Happiness, a rich, new, full-length dance by Wild Space Dance Company, provides further evidence (if any were needed) of the great strength of the collective process of performance-making. Holding to high standards, the team of choreographers (Debra Loewen, Dan Schuchart and Monica Rodero) asked questions of, and devised improvisations for, the willing dancers in a personal exploration of nothing less than the meaning of happiness.

The choreographers set movements that allowed the dancers to keep close to their original impulses, so everything looked fresh, honest and delightfully idiosyncratic. Signature movements I’ve come to associate with Wild Space, when present, seemed newly revelatory, even sacred, in this democratic exploration of an elusive subject. The collective process was always evident, and it became the most important meaning: Happiness is a social and interpersonal phenomenon, built on connectedness.

Speaking of Happiness was ultimately about the joy of making art with and for a community. The subject also lends itself to comedy and there were many laughs. The basic structure is the variety show (or, from recent times, the concept album). Twenty-four segments were listed in the program with titles like “Practice What You Reach,” “Making Do With What You Have” and “Happiness of Fish.” Some were set against voice recordings of intriguing observations by happiness scholars Daniel Gilbert, Daniel Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell. Others used music by composers as different as Donovan and Stravinsky. The dancers sometimes spoke, quite entertainingly. Overlaps, simultaneity, interruptions and recurring motifs added structural complexity and cohesiveness.

Happily, the Stiemke Theater is a facility capable of illuminating the quality of the work and the compassionate imagination of lighting designer Jan Kellogg. The dancer-actors were Lauren Hafner Addison, Michelle DiMeo, Liz Herbst Fransee, Angela Frederick, Javier Marchan, Yeng Vang-Strath, and Rodero and Schuchart. Each quickly emerged as an interesting individual and deepened that impression during the performance. As dancers, they were grounded, sensual, relaxed and flexible, easily slipping into perfect unison, intimate partnering, passionate solos and subtle clowning. They inspire confidence and compel attention. They are young, too, and so is a great part of the Wild Space audience, which is heartening.

A moment of perfect happiness among the many highlights: For no reason but the insane beauty of it, Hafner Addison played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on tuned wine glasses carried in procession across the stage—part vaudeville act, part ancient ceremony, funny, moving, holy.

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