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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stirring the Senses

Wild Space’s luscious, ecstatic dance concert

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In Debra Loewen's brilliant Milwaukee 360 dance show last fall, the audience stood in the chill night air on top of the parking structure of the former Pabst Brewery and looked down nine stories to a rubble-covered vacant lot where dancers ran like ants in flapping coats while a car maneuvered among them in halting circles. It was at once a sequence from a crime-laden film noir and a Busby Berkeley concoction for overhead camera. At other moments, dancers hurled themselves at concrete walls, signaled through glass windows and enacted vivid scenes in parked cars in potent fragments of tales without endings. It was a master choreographer's unforgettable interpretation of a setting.

When Loewen, the founding artistic director of the 26-year old Wild Space Dance Company, isn’t responding to a physical environment, she works from words. Luscious is the title and verbal inspiration for a new concert running March 14-16 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stiemke Studio Theater. To Loewen, the word means "a stirring of the senses."

Chocolate plays a featured role. Loewen will take a rhythmic phrase such as “cocoa powder,” "throat explosion" or “reluctant luscious” and ask her dancers to respond impulsively. Their movements, gestures and expressions, analyzed and abstracted, become an alphabet for an invented physical language specific to the dance under construction—rather like the grunts and cries of early humans were shaped into words to expand their communicative power. Next comes the hard work of composing a structure to carry the conversation heavenward for, as the ancients discovered, dance is how we communicate with gods.

Luscious
includes five pieces related by a concept, a choreographer and a first-rate company of performing artists. Four of the works are premieres. Loewen's "In This Condition" is a revival. It's her response to a favorite piece of writing, a litany of stirring things arranged by writer Lydia Davis while pregnant and, as Loewen describes it, "in a state of hormonal ecstasy."

Loewen is reviving this solo dance for Mauriah Kraker, home from world travels and currently one of the city's most exciting dancers. The wonderful Margaret Howland originated the role twelve years ago and has worked with Kraker on the reconstruction. Part One is set against Davis' text, recorded by Jacque Troy of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Part Two is set to a beloved scratchy recording of a Mozart string quartet.

One of the premieres is an improvisation structured by Loewen for two brave, powerful artists working within and outside their areas of expertise. Laura Murphy is a company dancer/choreographer and Amanda Schoofs is a vocalist/composer. Each will sing and dance in "Layers," a title chosen by Loewen to give the performers as much interpretative room as possible. Each will navigate from a separate structure written on her arm. There are correspondences and points of intersection, but neither knows how it will unfold. They are each other's accompaniment.

The inventive composer/musician Tim Russell will improvise the live accompaniment for Loewen's new "Fevered Sleep," danced by Kraker, Murphy, Lindsey Krygowski, Molly Mingey, Yeng Vang-Strath and Emily Zakrzewski, an altogether excellent collection of performers. Loewen worked from images of reclining women, nudes and odalisques. It may appear that some dancers are dreaming of others, but the movements are "dreams put into abstract patterns," Loewen said. Again, there is the idea of a sensual stirring.

It was Loewen's choice to work entirely with female dancers. Jade Jablonski, a Wild Space "affiliate artist" and one of the company's most striking soloists in recent seasons, will dance "Gelsomina Maria," a solo choreographed by Jablonski for herself with guidance from Loewen. The dance is described as a window into the enigmatic, sensual, joyful dream world of a woman.

"Orgasmic chocolate," as Loewen puts it, inspired "Chocolate Haze," the evening's climax. A playful collage for the women joined by the lovely Jessie Mae Scibek, it also features "events tied to lipstick." The dancers play themselves. For accompaniment, Loewen has assembled a soundtrack of voices speaking of chocolate and other provocations mixed with musical selections. These include the Gershwins’ "Embraceable You" performed by Judy Garland. As Loewen puts it, "You don't get more luscious than that!"

Performances are at 8 p.m. March 14-16 at the Milwaukee Repertory's Stiemke Theatre, 108 E. Wells St. A 7:15 p.m. pre-show talk on "The Delights of Chocolate" by Steven Wallace, founder and president of Milwaukee's Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, carries a small additional charge and includes a sample. Call the Rep's box office at 414-224-9490.