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Debra Loewen's inventive company celebrates its legacy with new work and a revival of some of its classics.

Hearing that Wild Space Dance Company’s 30th anniversary celebration would take place at Next Act Theatre, I thought that Debra Loewen might leave her site-specific impulses behind and offer a traditional concert—dancers on stage and audience in the seats.

I should have known better.

Performing at Next Act’s space for the first time, Loewen and Wild Space don’t hesitate to explore the entire Next Act building, putting the audience everywhere but the theater seats. First, we sit on benches in the middle of the stage, watching seven dancers create magic in the seats. It starts simply: Dancers walk in, they scatter and sit down, they look dead-center ahead. Then they look to the left, and finally way up at the ceiling. Then, they move through a series of brief poses: arms extend—hold; stretch overhead—hold; hands on chin, contemplating the meaning of it all—hold. Eventually, entropy takes over, and the septet explore the entire space before settling into the calm center again.

Wild Space Dance Company. “The Theater”;
Photo by Jessica Kaminski

Set against the neat geometry of the seats, it’s like watching musical notes dance around a staff, or bytes of data move around a circuit board.

While you’re watching this, there are more rows of benches behind you, facing the back of the stage (groups of the audience cycle through four locations during the dance’s first half). Here, a steady parade of dancers float by against an ominous black wall—like figures on a Greek vase. A pair slowly unrolls banners printed with Jenny-Holzer-style truisms: “Learn to make do with what you have.”

Dan Schuchart in “The Lobby”;
Photo by Tom Bamberger

To the next space: Next Act’s rehearsal room becomes a Green Room, where performers hang out when not on stage. Tom Thoreson slices strawberries, David Figueroa whisks whipped cream, and Jennifer Goetzinger uses both to assemble a chocolate layer cake. Time passes. Molly Mingey reads a book, then gets up to dance to whatever music is at hand. Sometimes, the mundane can be utterly serious. And fascinating.

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In the lobby—as in all lobbies—many things happen at once. A pair dressed in white jumpsuits and aviator hats frolic on a couch. Mauriah Kraker slowly emerges—limb by limb—from a coat hanging on a rack. And in a perfectly framed proscenium—the passage from the lobby to the theater—performers stream by, do a bit, then drift off. A small handwritten sign hangs on the wall: “Learn to make do.”

Wild Space Dance Company’s “Chocolate Haze”;
Photo by Matt Schwenke

After intermission, we’re back in the theater. This time in the seats. A dozen short dances testify to the company’s legacy and to its future. Cate Deicher’s intense duet, holonoloh, danced with concentration and tenderness by Figueroa and Goetzinger, is 30-years-old, one of the pieces on Wild Space’s first program. Loewen’s “I Love You” (from 2010’s Speaking of Happiness), a provocative and visceral duet about the extremes of human connection, featuring Dan Schuchart and Yeng Vang-Strath.

Some comic relief via “Chocolate Haze,” a sensuous satire on pleasure and femininity. And in the delicious parody, “I Should Be Somewhere Else,” Loewen and Maggie Seer’s look at “etiquette” set to the rule-bound music of Bach’s counterpoint. Loewen offers a nod to the future by featuring UWM student Nicole Spence’s Lavender Peach, an inventive and dynamic quintet.

Appropriately, the evening ended with all the dancers onstage, a cacophony of gesture, set to Tom Waits’s “That’s the way,” a wistful nod to both a lost past, and a hopeful future. Over thirty years, Loewen has certainly “Learned to make do,” as the signs here say. But I’d vary that motto a bit to get at the real heart of Wild Space and Loewen’s tenacious creativity: “Learn to make. Do.”

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Wild at 30 repeats Friday and Saturday nights at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St.

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