1870, immigrants from the Kaszuby region in northwestern Poland and Germany
took up residence on a peninsula between the Milwaukee
and Kinnickinnic rivers, finding it a suitable substitute for the HelPeninsula
on the Baltic coast. After digging a channel to create an isolated island, they
lived for many years on this small patch of land, subsisting on the fishing
industry which was not only a food source, but also made up their entire
economy. By 1920, however, the city had begun to commandeer JonesIsland
for use in the development of a more lucrative and industrialized harbor.
Considered “squatters,” the Kaszubian and German immigrants were forced to move
from the area, their presence and impact on the city largely forgotten.
Wild Space Dance Company’s Artistic Director Debra Loewen brings the rich
history of this vital community back to life with Map of Memories. The
nine-member company, along with three guest-dancers, will perform mostly modern
and contemporary work inspired in part by traditional Polish and German folk
dances with a backdrop of projected authentic archival images of life at JonesIsland.
The aim of the piece is to create a consciousness about the impact that those
early settlers had on the city. “People will come that do not necessarily
attend modern dance events and they will appreciate the history of it all. This
show puts a spotlight on an under-recognized culture that is and has been part
roots,” says Loewen.
complicated task of documenting JonesIsland’s deep history
within just a singular performance doesn’t rest entirely with Loewen and her
company. Well-respected Milwaukee writer and
historian John Gurda, author of The Making of Milwaukee, will engage the
audience with the historical background of JonesIsland
and the surrounding area. A pre-performance talk 45 minutes prior to the start
of each evening show will focus on the unique transition of Jones Island from
fishing village settled by immigrants to the industrial hub of Milwaukee’s
harbor system that it is today.
showcase the island’s picturesque lifestyle in the early 1900s, Loewen employs
the compositions of Fryderyk Chopin and Franz Peter Schubert, but also uses
some more flighty or skittish music with a twist to reflect the good nature and
vibrancy of the JonesIsland inhabitants. The
stage will be covered with a drop cloth, used to give the intimate space a more
expansive feel and also serving as the screen for the projected images. Though the
performers don’t don traditional Polish or German dancewear, the amount of
authentic Polish and German text and language used will be substantial.
According to Loewen, the cultural enactment and romanticized interpretation of
life at JonesIsland
in Map of Memories will be a welcome homage to Milwaukee residents with Polish and German
heritage. “People that attend will be able to say, ‘This is for me. This was
created for me.’ Those with ties to JonesIsland can be proud that
their histories and family lineage will be reflected so warmly after being such
a large part of the quilt that is our city.”
production runs May 2-4 at Danceworks Studio Theatre.