If you haven’t yet visited Milwaukee’s new Three Bridges Park, a local troupe will attempt to lure you.
For the next three nights, dancers will thread through a portion of the 24-acre slip of land in the Menomonee Valley. We step in on a rehearsal to learn what the artistic director is out to achieve.
Deb Loewen’s eyes scan the troupe from a bridge in the middle of the park. A dozen dancers sprinkle across the landscape. Some position themselves on the slope where young plants grow. Others, on a paved trail.
They begin synchronized movements, following the lead of a single performer in the middle of the river.
Loewen calls the production “Acts of Wilderness.”
“They are making wilderness here, this was just dirt from the freeway that was just left here for years and years and years, so it’s being shaped into a wilderness. My thinking is that we also are enacting and moving this wilderness forward and inhabiting it in the new way,” Loewen says.
Loewen started “designing” the performance while construction crews were still re-sculpting the old industrial corridor.
“And the trucks were flying, they were just flying with topsoil and dumps and rocks, jumping off the road because people were coming and going, I just thought.....” Loewen says.
She thought “horizon.”
“So there’s a lot of horizontal – you know vertical and horizontal plain, because they’re on top of this ridge and the minute they reach UP it’s to the heavens,” Loewen says.
Yet Loewen wants to keep the performance “gritty.” The dancers will wear colors of autumn; the river character will glimmer in white.
“The trick is the landscape is so beautiful, if you add more beauty to it, you’re going to lose,” Loewen explains.
Don’t tell Loewen, but gazing out at her troupe, I would have a hard time calling its fluid movement anything less than stunning.
The tossled hair choreographer founded Wild Space Dance Company “26 seasons” ago. A steady part of her repertoire is “site specific” performance. She admits her early motivation was practical.
“Because the theater spaces are less available to people,” Loewen says.
But the niche has grown on her. Loewen says it allows her to imprint humanity on a space and serve as its cultural ambassador.
“Where the audience HEARS about it, but sometimes it takes them three years to think ‘oh where is that place’,” Loewen says.
Three Bridges Park seemed the ideal backdrop.
“This is not such an easy place to find; parking will be a little tricky and people will come and say, what’s happening, I’m missing something. So there’s that and I always want to take care of them. But I think the beauty of it is, once you get them in, they kind of lock in and they stay with you and the fact that you are offering something that they will never see anywhere else. There will never be a river like this, with a bridge perfectly set the way it is, to have a group of dancers in the water and the sound of the water and sound of the splashing and the look of that,” Loewen says.
However, Acts of Wilderness does require a little imported light for its 7:30 P.M. performances.
“There is no artificial lighting except for the industry on the side,” Loewen says.
Not to worry – more solar-powered lights than she can count – the kind you can plant in the round – have been powering up in Loewen’s backyard. They will illuminate the night sky.
She reconfigures the dancers on the ridge, shifting their moves ever so slightly, oblivious to a little wind and the neighboring factory’s loudspeaker.