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Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting There From Here

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Questions of place and identity must be on the minds of Monica Rodero and Dan Schuchart as they prepare to leave Milwaukee for grad school in California after nine years with Wild Space Dance Company. Thoughts of journeys and change must also haunt artistic director Debra Loewen as she bids farewell to this couple who've been fellow travelers for more than a third of her company's history.  To honor this turning point, the three co-choreographed a work entitled How To Get From Here to There.  Its premiere last weekend at the Steimke Theatre closed the current Wild Space season.

Meetings and departures and the ways we change and are changed by others are among the subjects of the dance, built from improvisations with five women who performed it with Rodero and Schuchart. Liz Herbst Fransee, Angela Frederick, Allison Kaminsky and Yeng Vang-Strath have been company regulars for several years. Jessie Mae Scribek is a welcome newcomer.  Each danced with vivid individuality. I take it as a hopeful sign that the show's good lighting designer Jan Kellogg, who also left town for California, continues to maintain her creative relationships with the city's dance artists.

A collage of road maps filled the upper half of the black curtain backdrop. Near one end, maps descended to the floor, and dancers traced their body parts on it as if to show that "I was here" once. At one point, each dancer named the sites of the travels of their young lives. The affect was powerful, then poignant when Scribek, who has apparently never left Wisconsin, argued for the beauty of the here and now while the others paid her no attention. There was much humor, often wry and connected to a witty soundtrack of directional advice by writer Mike Mathieu, delivered in precise voices by Libby Amato and Bill Finn.

The dancers also spoke. Rodero, born in Spain, pointed out which parent or grandparent was responsible for her various physical features, and which life experience produced each scar. The gestures she used were incorporated later in a riveting solo with profound reverberations. Big questions were raised throughout the whole performance: Who put me here; and why here and not there?  However unanswerable, they registered as honest and formed bonds with the audience.

Loewen's choreography derives from pedestrian movements. A mastery of form holds everything together.  Virtuosity lies in precision, timing, speed, stamina and a convincing connectedness. Rodero, especially, but all the dancers at their best, seem focused as much on living as on executing steps. Images were alternately concrete and elusive, transparent and mysterious, appropriate for a piece about somewhere and nowhere.

I'll remember the thrilling athleticism of a passage in which all the dancers swung and flung themselves across the floor in a diagonal line to tango music, and the ending in which after signaling their presence "here," they traveled that diagonal in reverse, each bearing an invisible load, separate but connected by a path of light and a similar struggle.