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Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

Wild Space Dance’s Imaginative ‘Past Present’

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Choreographer and Wild Space Artistic Director Deb Loewen clearly spent much time in the interior of the Milwaukee County Historical Society imagining where to situate her dancers and audiences for her newest site-specific performance, Past Present. Aided by Jan Kellogg’s quiet lighting, the work revealed the public areas of the former bank expansively and intimately. What a setting it made in its splendor and aura! The 12 dancers and their audiences are fortunate to have this experience in their lives.

If you missed it, go there and imagine. Stand at the south wall and look up: Dancers in black modern dress pressed against the great pillars that hold up the place, and explored the possibilities of the railings in fluid movements, casting shadows. With the gorgeous, carved ceiling as backdrop, an elegant couple emerged from darkness and danced on the farthest balcony in clothes suggesting wealth at the start of the 20th century, when this “Brewers’ Bank” was constructed.

Turn around. The floor-to-ceiling open vault became the backdrop for several dances featuring projected black-and-white photos of old Milwaukee and its black and white working class. Dapper, melancholy, aspiring and industrious characters, dressed in pared-down period clothes with hats and long coats, like memories of past lives, some with precious purses, executed Loewen’s focused stream-of-consciousness choreography as if by second nature. Three louche figures looked a lot like Johnny Depp. A meditation on death was provocative against the bank vault.

Walk north. The invaluable Dan Schuchart danced on the giant bolts and wheels of a closed vault door as he polished the brass. Through the immense windows on the east, picture dancers outside on a January night bravely playing with snow. Discover the narrow door on the west wall with its frosted glass pane, where a luminous Monica Rodero, trying to read, experienced a startling visitation. Sit on the marble staircase to the cellar and imagine a riveting Jade Jablonski behind black metal bars, moving security deposit boxes to the vault, all fast footwork, like a bee at a hive.

Look down from the second level. Schuchart, Rodero and Liz Herbst Fransee earned and deposited earnings, chasing rainbows to Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu. The whole town danced, died, sloughed old coats like skins, and returned holding suitcases glowing with light from within, walking toward the gaping vault, casting long shadows. Maybe you had to be there.