“A friend of mine wrote three books,” says Debra Loewen, speaking enviously of her feverishly productive friends during the pandemic. But Loewen, the artistic director and founder of Wild Space Dance Company, was no slouch. She put on weekly August shows in front of the Milwaukee Art Museum, created a piece for UW-Milwaukee dance students and produced bimonthly dances in parking lots throughout 2020.
Indeed, “Parking Lot Dances” came naturally to Loewen; her work is almost exclusively a response to some unique place where you don’t expect to see dance. Wild Space did not have to reinvent what the company does to adjust to the pandemic; on the contrary, Loewen dug in her heels, determined to continue live performances when almost everybody else was going exclusively digital. “It felt dangerous because we were some of the only people in Milwaukee who were performing,” Loewen says.
Loewen and the dancers drew inspiration from each lot’s paint lines, columns beneath the expressway and the twinkling Milwaukee skyline at dusk. Parked cars filled with patrons – their headlights lighting the performers – encircled the dancers, who donned sneakers and, as the year went on and winter set in, more and more layers of clothes.
This month, Wild Space heads indoors to put a cap on this very strange year (and then some) for the arts. Titled “A Year of Dancing Dangerously,” Loewen’s latest concert pulls from the company’s various Parking Lot Dances – and puts them in a theater.
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“I haven’t been in a theater since 2014, I think,” Loewen says. “There are different parameters being inside, knowing there’s going to be heat and a bathroom. I’m not fighting with the elements. The challenge is how to transform the theater, so it becomes a site of some sort.”
Despite the unusually conventional location, the space is still significant. The Mitchell Hall Studio, on UWM’s campus, was where Wild Space debuted 35 years ago. “It’s a palindrome,” says Loewen. “I’m 70, so half of my life has been spent in this gifted place of having a lot of ideas. Lots of them don’t work, but enough have kept my interest. I’m still excited by making. That excitement of starting something doesn’t change.”
To make “A Year of Dancing Dangerously,” Loewen is revisiting some of the prompts that informed “Parking Lot Dances,” reshaping bits and pieces from memory with seven dancers, not all of whom danced together. There’s one rule: No peeking at the video. “We don’t want to redo,” Loewen says. “That’s not who I am.”
While she won’t commit to the idea that “A Year of Dancing Dangerously” is a retrospective, Loewen is using the significance of the venue and her company’s 35th anniversary to reflect on what Wild Space is. To that end, she will make a rare appearance on stage. “I feel like this is a turning point for me,” she says.
Mitchell Hall Studio
3203 N. Downer Ave.
Audience members 12 and older must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for COVID-19. Masks are required.