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Monday, March 18, 2013

Absolutely Luscious

Wild Space’s luscious, ecstatic dance concert

lusciousmurphy
Matt Schwenke
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Debra Loewen and her Wild Space Dance Company are having a spectacular season. Following last fall’s stunning “Milwaukee 360,” their new concert at the Stiemke Studio Theatre, “Luscious” (March 14-16), was one of the finest in memory. Every dancer was outstanding. Loewen's deeply thoughtful, unpredictable choreography was constantly fascinating and generous. Noelle Stollmark's delicate lighting was gorgeous. The costumes by Leslie Vaglica and Liz Fransee, designing separately, were perfect. Each of the five dances—four of them premieres—provided rich contrasts yet belonged together in a program that played with the idea of lusciousness.

The show opened with In This Condition, a complex solo that Loewen made years ago with dancer Margaret Howland and now revived for Mauriah Kraker. Kraker began by facing the audience with arms open wide.  Accompanied by the recorded voice of writer Jacque Troy reading "This Condition" by Lydia Davis, Kraker danced with uncanny sensitivity as if absorbing all the room's energy, with parts of her body touched separately. The text is a random list of things that unexpectedly moved Davis while she was pregnant. A lovely, nostalgic Mozart string quartet replaced Troy's warm voice, and the dancing grew smoother.  Perhaps the dancer's body was processing the stimuli, but there was nothing literal about it. Kraker's flexible spine, elegant arms and legs, perfect balance and focused gaze made her dancing riveting.

Even more amazing was the long improvisation by Laura Murphy and Amanda Schoofs that followed on its heels.  Dressed glamorously in black, both performers vocalized wordlessly while dancing according to separate but interactive structures created by Loewen. Each woman was acutely alert to the other's voice and body, responsive but self-sufficient and individually creative. They made an exquisite team. The singing was alternately melodic, percussive, operatic and ethereal; the movements were full-bodied, sultry and playful with intricate, intimate partnering. The result, titled Layers, was unlike any dance I've ever seen.

The sole male in the cast was composer Tim Russell who provided live electronic accompaniment for Fevered Sleep, a new, very intricately choreographed piece by Loewen for six women.  Russell's instruments are a computer and a microphone into which he hums. The effect is ethereal, spiritual, expansive; tempos evolve, sometimes drastically; the music throbs, floats. Russell is able to improvise within Loewen's set structure. His music co-exists with the dancers; it doesn't direct or control them.  The women—Kraker, Murphy, Lindsey Krygowski, Molly Mingey, Yeng Vang-Strath and Emily Zakrzewski, all brilliant—seem more attuned to one another.

The dance began with four women lying on their backs, perhaps asleep. Two others sat with their backs to the audience. All six are the subject of the dream that is this dance. The sophisticated choreography is fast-paced—fevered indeed. Patterns change in ways that are never arbitrary but always mysterious. The dance tells no story.  It could be a dream about dreaming, about ecstasy in the sweetest sense.

The pleasure of playing the muse is the subject of the delicious Gelsomina Maria, a solo choreographed and danced by the Jade Jablonski dressed in black and red velvet, looking like a painting by Manet and reminding me of Brigit Bardot. The insouciant Jablonski was fabulous at playing "fabulous." The joy she seemed to take in the role was contagious. It's a short dance, a kind of set piece, something to treasure.

The final, longest dance, Chocolate Haze, epitomized a similar post feminist reveling in "girlish" things for the sheer pleasure of it when one is actually free to take, bend or abandon these actions and images at will. A laugh out loud funny, smart, generous work, Loewen's six dancers—company member Jessie Mae Scibek took Murphy's position this time—deconstruct the eroticsm of fur coats, lipstick, hair-do's and chocolate along with the dance itself. We are shown a glimpse of where it came from and how, while the women take this phantasmagoria of lusty pleasures to extremes. Everyone was sensational, but I have to single out the temptress played by Vang-Strath. She's never been better or funnier.
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