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Friday, Sept. 20, 2013

Wild Space in Wild Space

‘Acts of Wilderness’ in Three Bridges Park

Acts of Wilderness
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A newborn park in the center of Milwaukee is the dramatic setting for Acts of Wilderness, a new site-specific spectacle that Debra Loewen and her Wild Space Dance Company will present on Sept. 19-21.

Three Bridges Park is an infant wilderness built along both sides of the river to replace a moribund stretch of the Menomonee Valley between the 27th and 35th Street viaducts. An almost unbelievable accomplishment by the Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center, it’s designed as a habitat for wildlife with kayaking potential and paths and bridges for walking, running and biking. To the great ecological, aesthetic, recreational and educational benefits the park offers, add the social value of connecting two lively, diverse neighborhoods previously separated by a desolate valley.

As we walked past sunflowers along the route the audience will traverse during the outdoor performance, I watched a coyote run along the nearby tracks a train had ambled down just minutes earlier. Once a wild rice marsh vital to Milwaukee’s native inhabitants, then a railroad yard vital to the city’s industrial development, then a wasteland, the place is now a sign of hope. Loewen remarked that children who today are taller than the park’s new tree plantings will someday bring their children here for a walk in the woods.

Joe Pikalek is a dancer in the show. Generations of his ancestors worked in the rail yards and lived in nearby Piggsville. In their honor, Pikalek will build a wooden raft and float fire down the river. After sunset, lighting designer Jan Kellogg will use fire and solar-powered hunting flashlights since there’s no electric power. Composer Tim Russell’s musicians will play the rocks, dirt, water and bridges.

Performances start at 7:30 p.m. from the parking lot of Mitchell Domes where a walking bridge provides entrance to the site. Audiences will walk a curving, rising and falling asphalt path (a distance of about five city blocks) while a large cast of dancers perform against a variety of stunning vistas. Midway, benches will appear and audiences will sit for several scenes. A second bridge becomes a viewing gallery for a finale beside and in the river.

On the first bridge, at 6:45 p.m., the entertaining Milwaukee historian John Gurda will tell the story of the valley. A $30 premium ticket is required. “Performance only” tickets are $20; $15 for students and seniors.

Acts of Wilderness begins from the parking lot of the Mitchell Park Domes, 524 S. Layton Blvd., at 6:45 p.m. for Gurda’s pre-show talk and 7:30 p.m. for the performance, Sept. 19-21. Call 414-271-0307 or visit wildspacedance.org for tickets.