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Reaching for the Sublime
A review of Wild Space Dance Company's "All About Life."


It starts with swells of mottled bright blue and ends with the stillness of stars. Creation to infinity -  what else would you expect from a theater piece called All About Life? But since this new work is from Wild Space Dance Company, the title is a little more complicated than the pop-philosophy best-seller it suggests.

After all, All About Life, is informed by the ideas of Alan Lightman, a theoretical physicist (appropriately named) who relishes the mystery of the universe, the idea that we can never know “all” about anything. This is a 75-minute extended riff on that Lightman’s mindset - in movement, music and words - composed by Wild Space Artistic Director Debra Loewen, along with Dan Schuchart, Monica Rodero and Mauriah Kraker.  It doesn’t pretend to solve that mystery or begin to tell us “all about” it. Instead, it circles about its subject, circumscribing it, bouncing off edges and sometimes penetrating its substance for a brief glimpse of this or that detail - an idea here, a metaphor there.

Save the universal images at the end and beginning, the trajectory here is on a human scale. Early on, Schuchart enters, a curious birdwatcher on a stage redolent with bird song. The act of looking is simple at first, but as other dancers enter, it develops into an ensemble piece that is charmed with a sense of exploration and curiosity. The theme is taken up by Rodero in a spoken “movement monologue,” a gentle zen-like invocation that gets to the heart of the matter: how do we live? Or more pointedly, how do we extract our “one story” from the expanse of “life.” How do make our life singular; how to we make it “about” any one thing?

And the rest of the dance plumbs the particulars of this Big Question, following the journey we all take. In Kraker’s first solo, the Meaning of Life seems to lie in the neckline of a summer dress: On the shoulder? Off the shoulder? Here lies girlishness and there glamour, and her solo dance - with its alternation between skipping-twirling energy and “you look fabulous” poses - is a beautifully condensed character study of self-awareness.

But self-consciousness is quickly sloughed off. The middle section of the dance is more devoted to play and joy, in radiant ensembles that convey the glory of freedom and discovery. In exhilarating syncopations, dancers run, stop, then start to fall, only to catch themselves and continue on. But talk of entropy and aging enter the picture, and the mood is playfully changed via They Might Be Giants’ “Older”.

And here Loewen perfectly captures the vicissitudes of “Middle Age” in a single gesture. It starts like a high school student giving a presentation, arms extending one after another as if to say, “On one hand . . . but on the other hand.” But for this Big Question, of course, there’s no resolution. Instead, there’s a quiet terrifying pause as a look of angst and slight panic rises in the eyes. The motif starts with Schuchart, but then extends to the ensemble, and it’s orchestrated into a visual fugue of ennui, punctuated only by a single dancer who wanders around convulsively and loudly fumes – a kind of Everywoman King Lear – at the march of time itself.

But eventually, All About Life comes to embrace Lightman’s existential mystery instead of railing against the dying of the light. Lou Reed lends a hand, singing that “Life’s good - but not fair at all.” As does Albert Einstein (quoted by Lightman): “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” The quiet, starlit closing of All About Life may strike some as a bit sentimental, but Loewen and her dancers have earned the right to pluck at the heartstrings after so thorough and exquisitely graceful exploration of that sublime “fundamental emotion.”

Photos by Matt Schwenke.


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