In recent years, Debra Loewen’s site-specific performances for Wild Space Dance Company have been either contained or expansive. In Schlitz Park, she wove her dancers through the grid of columns of a raw, construction site of an office-building floor. In Three Bridges Park, she took her audience on a whistle stop tour, arraying her dancers on hillsides and scattering them around a waterfall.
In Luminous, which runs for two more performances this weekend, Loewen has the best of both worlds. Set in the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Annex, her latest work is at once surrounded by the elegant geometry of a greenhouse and open to the heavens themselves. On Thursday night, a brilliant half moon was visible through the glass ceiling, a reminder that dancers—bodies—are ever poised between earth and sky.
It begins with Monica Rodero’s solo, performed against the canvas of a garage door just outside the building. The audience lines up against the long glass wall of the Annex, and watches her articulate some of the evening’s motifs. One hand rises like a Spring shoot, fingertips pushing against the palm of the other hand, which flexes as the shoot pushes again and again, inching upward. And several times, Rodero seemed to mimic figures from Matisse’s La Danse, bodies celebrating the harvest.
Inside, the space was dark, but six dancers huddled in a soft pool of light while the saxophones of Duo d’Entre-Deux created breathy clicks and pops—a whispered version of a Rite-of-Spring Big Bang? Looking around the expansive building, you could see the group reflected in the greenhouse glass like spectres, the six becoming 12, or 18, or 24.
The main section of the piece started with a solo—look up, look down—then joined by another dancer and another, eventually growing into a contemplative canon, the movement growing in animation and variety.
From there, the space became Loewen’s expansive canvas. This is a technically talented group of dancers—eight professionals and five UW-Milwaukee “dance interns”—and Loewen gives them many chances to demonstrate a precise athleticism. She sets them in groups of two or three for turn-on-a-dime unison phrases, constructing exquisite fugues that spread across the vast space. Occasionally she’ll isolate a dancer in the distance, watching the action like a stately Ozymandias. Or she’ll cluster a group around one of the musicians, who circulate through the space like griots, spurring or commenting on the movement around them.
At times, the musicians take center stage, and they are extraordinary players. They use overblowing to create symphonic textures from only two instruments, and they used the vast volume of the space to create unearthly echos. Nick Zoulek’s alto saxophone solo in the middle of the dance was a tour de force, and the pair’s use of odd instruments like found-object percussion and horns made of long tubes (was that an elephant, or a speeding Maserati in full Doppler Shift) took you to other worlds.
For that is what Luminous amounts to—another world of light, movement, and human interaction that is poised in a space partway between imagination and the physical stuff of life. It’s a real trip.