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Wild Space Dance Company Presents 'Artifacts' at Riverwest's Goat Palace

Sep. 12, 2017
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Set back from the road and hidden by tall bushes, The Goat Palace on North Fratney Street in Riverwest calls no attention to itself. I drove by several times before I took a chance and turned into its long driveway, barely able to believe this was the site where choreographer Debra Loewen was about to create a major dance performance with her Wild Space Dance Company. She’d warned me in advance that this year’s site-specific show would contrast greatly with last year’s exploration of the gorgeous gardens of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Indeed, The Goat Palace is an undecorated white barn-like building with a loading dock in front and a garage in back, set in a flat grassy yard with a working fire pit in what was once a small manufacturing neighborhood just below Capital Drive.

Carl Nillsen, owner of the adjacent Flux Design building and brand-new brewpub on the corner of Fratney and Vienna streets, recently purchased the property. To its south, along the cracked pavement of Fratney, is a warehouse long ago transformed into artists’ studios and whimsically named The Nut Factory. Perhaps inspired by that moniker, Nillsen called his new acquisition The Goat Palace. Built in 1920 for manufacturing, no goat has set hoof there—until Loewen’s show, that is.

Nillsen plans to make it an event space, a party palace for concerts, theater, weddings and such. It can hold several hundred. He envisions a future Riverwest creative arts district here. Director Leda Hoffmann’s Luminous Theatre staged a play in the building last spring. Now Loewen, as she does in all her site-specific work, will use the building and grounds as an inspiration and partial subject for dance theater.

She’s titled the new show Artifacts because Nillsen currently uses the building as a kind of attic for his many odd collectibles. The dancers will incorporate and respond to them as the cultural items of unknown origin that they are. For example, a moveable hairdresser’s station will serve as a traveling stage for an invented diorama; a life-size blow-up doll will have a role in a scene in a pick-up truck; a collection of small bee transport cages inspired a dance. And there’s hand-crafted goat art. 

“There’s a culture of artmaking in this part of town,” Loewen said. “Someone said to me that the Villa Terrace piece was the have-done and this Riverwest piece is the can-do. I thought, oh yeah!”

At the start of the performance, the audience will divide into three groups, each located in a separate area. Outdoors, one group will view an indoor scene through the loading dock doors while another surrounds the pick-up truck where guest artists Lindsey Ruenger and Steven Zarzecki will have a duet. A third group, seated in the rear garage, will see a dance in the driveway. The groups will rotate until each has viewed all three enactments, then join to enter the main building for a last garage scene before moving into the high-ceilinged central hall where a curtain will rise on a dance to live music.

Five simultaneous repeating events will follow in the building’s side bays, including the traveling hairdresser station. They can be viewed in any sequence, repeatedly if desired, for as long as the interlude lasts. One scene, directed by UW-Milwaukee associate theater professor Tony Horne, can only be viewed through peepholes in a cardboard wall. Another presents Wild Space dancers as human goats with bells. Another presents, yes, live goats.

“This is a Goat Palace. I couldn’t run away from that,” Loewen said. “I looked for goats. I went to county fairs but when you talk to people there about a dance with goats they just look at you. But I finally found someone who does goat yoga—Abigail Lippmann from Oak Hollow Acres in Burlington. They have yoga outside on the grass and she brings little dwarf goats, and while you’re doing downward dog they might jump on your back. I think it’s meant to make you smile. I knew it was an East Coast thing but it’s new in Burlington. I told her she might find some contacts here since yoga people come to dance concerts. I needed little goats that aren’t going to try to jump out of the pen and that are used to being held or touched. She’s bringing them.” 

Artifacts will end outdoors beneath the night sky in the pastoral yard around a lighted bonfire. “There’s something so beautiful about just having the audience come together at the end of something,” Loewen said. She knows that well because she’s been making site-specific works for 30 years, since before they were widely accepted. Her shows aren’t novelties. They’re the products of a dedicated life in art, her masterpieces.

Performances are at 7:15 p.m., Sept. 14-17 at The Goat Palace, 3740 N. Fratney St. Seating is limited; advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended. Call 414-271-0712 or visit wildspacedance.org.

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