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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dancing 'From Here to There'

A Wild Space premiere at Stiemke Studio

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Life is a constant process of getting from here (wherever) to there (what's next). Debra Loewen, Monica Rodero and Dan Schuchart of Wild Space Dance Company have been working out How to Get From Here to There, a new unified dance work that will have its premiere April 14-16 in the Stiemke Studio.

"We thought it would be easier," Loewen says with a laugh. "We're still exploring what constitutes here."

"Here is a moving target," Schuchart agrees.

Loewen founded this essential modern dance company 24 years ago. "How did I get from there to here?" she asks aloud during our conversation, quickly picturing her artistic journey in travel metaphors like roadblocks and missed connections, the stuff of the new show. Rodero and Schuchart have been fellow travelers since 2002. Last season, the three co-choreographed the wonderful Speaking of Happiness.

They are using the same process now. They call it the "Pina Bausch process." Bausch, a celebrated German choreographer who died in 2009, developed an influential style of dance-theater. The dancers improvise during rehearsals, responding in movement and speech to provocative prompts that "open the associative mind," as Rodero puts it. The choreographer manipulates this personal, impulsive material to make the performance.

"We started with the title," Loewen says. "It seemed open enough that lots of things could happen. It could have been another Odyssey."

The three devised a list of phrases related to getting somewhere, such as "map it out," "I can/can't take you there" and "leaving trails," to use as prompts for the dancers' improvisations.

"It's about responding to what you see in rehearsal, rather than what's already in your head," Schuchart says. "We're trying to bring the dancer's individual characters forward."

Hours of improvising produce perhaps a minute of performance material. Index cards naming bits of material gathered thus far cover a long table in the rehearsal room. The choreographers add to, subtract from and rearrange these daily. "Once you decide something is a keeper," Rodero says, "you have to decide what comes before and after."

The piece will open with an overture danced by Rodero and Schuchart against a recorded text by Mike Mathieu, a playwright from Washington state. In the voice of a GPS device giving directions to a driver, he tells them to "go down, juggle your commitments, weigh your priorities, turn left at the elbow, fake surprise, make sure the thing you do is creatively consistent with the things you say," and so on. They respond to these directions in the faith that it will lead them somewhere. In doing so, they create a movement vocabulary that reappears in all that follows—now here, now there.

"Look at this interesting place I'm in now," another of Mathieu's texts goes. "I couldn't have put myself here if I tried. I know because I've tried to put myself here many times and I always ended up somewhere else."

Maps were important rehearsal props. "We took the idea of a map," Rodero says, "and constructed an emotional landscape."

Invisible sites on the floor direct the dancers into states of being, such as the state of confusion. Other locations have names like "puppy" and "twitch." As the dancers travel the landscape alone or in groups, they respond to the prompt of each location with movements that continue to recur, perhaps prompted finally by habit.

A second text source and inspiration is The Art of Travel by Swiss writer Alain de Botton, whose provocations include: "It seems we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there."

The cast also includes Angela Frederick, Liz Fransee, Allison Kaminsky, Jessie Mae Scibek and Mai Yeng Vang-Strath. Longtime collaborator Jan Kellogg is the lighting designer.

Performances are at 8 p.m. at the Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Tickets are $15-$25. Call the Milwaukee Repertory Theater box office at 414-224-9490.

John Schneider currently gets from here to there by writing about dance for the Shepherd Express, teaching dance and theater at Marquette University, and making theater and music here and there.