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Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

The Wild Space In Between

Where Dance, Visuals and Location Converge

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Debra Loewen began the 25th year of her Wild Space Dance Company with another once in a lifetime performance called In The Space Between.  Once again, she transformed an historic Milwaukee site – this time the Pritzlaff Building on the corner of St Paul and Plankington, adding mystery and sensuality to the staid, architecturally repetitive 19th century hardware factory.

Her chief collaborator was artist photographer Tom Bamberger, whose inexhaustible cache of photos was projected onto three big screens in the central room where the performance started and finished.

Loewen explained that the audience was free to choose its route and the amount of time spent in any of the indoor and outdoor areas. “You will build your own experience,” she said. This was similar to Pegi Christiansen and John Loscuito's 2009 Performance Art Showcase at MIAD with many artists arranged in a maze-like arcade. But MIAD is not the cavernous Pritzlaff complex, and this was the vision of a single artist. We could even choose to stay at a little bar in the main room for the full 80 minutes, watching Bamberger's images and letting dancers come to us.

Most people took their cues from the lighting. When an area went dark, people wandered somewhere else. The exception was the slideshow. These gleaming, never-repeating streams of images appeared and dissolved with barely time to register the content. When dancers performed before or behind them in silhouette, analysis was beside the point. Everything seduced and nothing insisted on specific meaning. The dancing was hypnotic. Often a particular combination of gesture and image looked great, but was gone in a moment. I could have drifted off and let it mix into my dreams.

Staying in the main room longer than most and taking the opposite path from the crowd, I felt I saw the performance backwards, but also that every choice I made was right and I was always where I ought to be. Loewen's ability to keep interesting things happening throughout vast spaces in two buildings, an outdoor courtyard and several connecting alleys was seriously breathtaking.

I think the dancers were also free to make choices in how they used the movements. In a sense, it didn't matter. The large picture, the whole multi-faceted experience, began to have meaning, but the separate pieces seemed simply to respond to particulars of the space. Like a savvy film director, Loewen helps you notice what lies before, around and above, as well as between.

The audio design was superb. I followed the sound of metal cans on strings dragged across the cobbles by dancers, and enthusiastically pursued the brilliant wordless vocalizing of Amanda Schoofs. The main room featured a recording of the site's true ambient sounds, including trains passing to and from the station outside. Listening to a recorded train, I entered the courtyard, into the identical sound occurring live – a magical disorientation.

Even the space behind the projection screens had a bench for sitting.  Loewen seemed to have thought about every detail.