by Jeff Grygny
For those of us addicted to live performance, this has been a season of withdrawal. No matter how lovingly produced virtual theater might be, the flat screen just can’t equal the warm, breathing in-person event. So it was that, driven by a certain thirst, we recently had an entirely new experience: watching a dance concert through a car windshield (I recommend the shotgun seat for the most unobstructed view).
Long accustomed to on-site performance, Debra Loewen’s Wild Space Dance Company has been one of the few groups in town to brave the outdoors and organize dances in parking lots The third of such offerings, “Under the Freeway,” played last week for several performances. The very circumstances of the event dictated their own form and drama, and even created a role for the audience: we herded our cars into specific configurations under the on-ramp to the Hoan bridge, marshaled by baton-wielding dancers, like an alien ritual in which two-legged masked beings command giant metal and glass wheeled creatures.
Illuminated by the bright eye-beams of docile vehicles, two groups of dancers, some thirty yards apart from each other, performed 20-minute routines under the soaring concrete columns, accompanied by soundtracks that had been downloaded and played on personal phones. No two cars could witness exactly the same show. Then the cars were deftly shepherded to change positions, and we saw the same choreography from the opposite side.
The company’s signature movement style is abstract and body-based, introducing motifs and variations that seem to have been been born out of the dancer’s personal impulses. As the dances develop, we appreciate space, form, tension, contrast, and coordinated movement. From behind your glass shield, you can see one group performing quite close, even occasionally peering at you, and at the same time see the other group as tiny figures in the distance. What is hidden on the first viewing is revealed in the second, and vice versa; your experience accumulates richness as the evening progresses.
The scores are eclectic collages of modern, classical, and tango fragments, snatches of spoken word, musique concrete and passages of silence. At one point a voice quotes avant-garde chance composer John Cage: “Looking closely helps.” Indeed, this style gives the viewer great freedom (and responsibility) for their focus. Whatever theme or narrative there is, the viewer must construct herself. It seemed that the southern performance group had a cool, alienated mood, while the northern side seemed warmer and more communal—aided, no doubt, by the energetic Alisha Jihn, who dances like a burning torch. At the end, as we feebly applauded inside our machines, then followed the leader out of the lot and back into the streets, the performance felt like a perfect microcosm of the strange situation our world is in: brave souls cavorting in bright white light while traffic rolls a hundred feet above, and we huddle in our mobile shells, cut off from community, but sheltering its warmth like a candle being carried across a huge dark room.
The artists of Wild Space are keeping the flame lit, until such a night comes when we can once again gather around the fire, unmasked.
Parking Lot Performance #3 “Under the Freeway”
by Wild Space Dance Company
Debra Loewen, Artistic Director