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You Are What You Notice

Debra Loewen on site-specific dance making

Sep. 6, 2016
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I asked Debra Loewen to speak broadly about the 29 site-specific dance performances she’s choreographed since she founded Wild Space Dance Company in 1987. Here are some of her thoughts:

“You are what you notice. That’s kind of my mantra. Sometimes you might call it A.D.D. but I’m very associative in my thinking process. I spend time in a location to learn and absorb aspects of the environment—to watch what happens in a particular place—to notice as many things as possible. This happens in advance of rehearsals. And it might involve watching the relationship of people to place, how a building, a pathway or a tree might frame a dancer in a certain way or how the place frames the history of what’s gone on before there.

“I love jigsaw puzzles. I love shaping and forming; putting pieces together that fit or don’t fit. Each site raises questions of ‘What if?’ I love the juxtaposition of the dancers and the audience. That’s my other mantra: The where of action feels more important than what the action might be. Place and proximity define relationships…be it performers with one another, or performers to the space in which they are moving, or performers in relationship to an audience member. It is more significant than what one might be doing.

“I want to see people make choices based on where they’re standing. With dancers, I’m not interested in everybody equidistant and facing the same direction. That’s so much a part of dance training and it gets ingrained, unfortunately, missing the beauty that we are never really equidistant from one another. Our positions speak about what’s happening. 

“We get into such tracks: I’m getting up, leaving my house, getting into my car, going to work… We forget to pause and look. Oh, things are happening right down the street!

“I’m always hunting, beating the bushes. Who bought this building? What buildings are vacant? How can I draw people’s attention to the fact that there’s something right here and they shouldn’t put their blinders on and walk past.”

Loewen’s next site-specific performance, Into the Garden, happens Sept. 8, 11, 13, 14 at Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum. The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 18.

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