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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'Wild Night' Celebrates 25 Years of Wild Space

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It is to the lasting credit of founding choreographer Debra Loewen and the artists and community members who have worked with her or otherwise given their support that her Wild Space Dance Company has made it through 25 seasons. That heartening reality will be celebrated on Saturday, June 23, at the Turner Hall Ballroom in “Wild Night,” a one-night-only public performance by the current ensemble along with some of the most memorable dancers in Wild Space history.

“It's a happy thing I'm making,” Loewen says. “The best way I can honor the people who chose to live their lives with me—I didn't pay them to do that—is to celebrate them.”

Most of the original 1987 company will perform new work, including David Figueroa, Johanna Melamed, Tom Thoreson and Diane VanDerhei, artists forever beloved to those who know them. Melamed, who is now a Seattle sound designer, is bringing a soundscape. Figueroa, Thoreson and VanDerhei, dancing together for the first time in decades, will perform a trio.

“Stage relationships and personas don't disappear with time,” Loewen explains. “You will see that.”

Likewise, Dani Kuepper, now the artistic director of the Danceworks Performance Company, will dance a new Loewen-made duet with Joseph Pikalek, their first in 14 years. The program will also feature new duets by talented alumni Monica Rodero and Dan Schuchart, Javier Marchan and Katie Sopoci, and Lauren Hafner and Cassie Motta, and solos by Michelle DiMeo and Jade Jablonski. Each dance will reflect time spent in Wild Space.

The dancing will take place on the Turner Hall stage, the only part of the ballroom that Loewen has never explored as a dance environment. A party atmosphere will prevail. Good stories will be shared. The two-woman orchestra Mrs. Fun, adventurous Wild Space collaborators over the years, will accompany several dances and perform at the post-show reception included in the ticket.

Loewen has been a visionary choreographer and a courageous producer, tackling every new artistic and practical issue as it came along. Her work has been consistently surprising, powerfully constructed and sharply attuned to the individual dancers and the physical, social, psychological and historical environment of each performance, many of them site-specific. Her primary sources of inspiration, she says, are the dancers first, then the city.

To have produced new show after new show at the high level of quality that Wild Space has maintained is a formidable accomplishment that deserves reflection as well as celebration. It's hard to say if a new generation can repeat that achievement.

“Milwaukee is a place where you can succeed if you work hard,” Loewen offers. “You are allowed to work hard here.”

Her dance-making process is labor intensive. “Lots of ideas get sent out during rehearsals,” she says. “Some end up in the dance, some in someone's teaching practice, some in games you play with your children. I'm not the only one in the room with ideas, but I'm channeling all of it.”

Loewen describes her company's history as a series of waves characterized by clusters of dancers. She sees them as families. An average wave lasts five or six years, although individual dancers may stay much longer. “I'd catch them as they were leaving UWM,” Loewen says. “Great talent, great creativity, and they would end up staying for some years.

“What a crazy thing,” she adds. “You take people who don't know each other at all, and they create, move and breathe together and become friends for life.”

She views the current wave as new, born last September with In the Space Between, a site-specific performance in the Downtown Pritzlaff building complex. This company includes five new dancers and others who, like Liz Fransee, Mai-Yeng Vang-Strath and Jessie Mae Scibek, have put in several years. This group will appear throughout “Wild Night” in compositions that draw on work made this season, but re-contextualized and with different music. It will show the company's current direction and the strengths of this family of dancers.

Wild Space's “Wild Night” is Saturday, June 23, at 7 p.m. at the Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. Fourth St. For more information, call 414-271-0712 or visit www.wildspacedance.org.