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Outside with Wild Space Dancers

Villa Terrace an incomparable setting for ‘Into the Garden’

Sep. 13, 2016
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Photo by Paul Mitchell

At a performance of such magnitude and complexity as Debra Loewen’s Into the Garden with Wild Space Dance Company, staged at nightfall in the panoramic gardens of the Villa Terrance Decorative Arts Museum, the once-in-a-lifetime fact of the event is overwhelming. The interactions each individual has there with self, others, nature, architecture, sculpture, dance, music, history and happenstance belong uniquely to that individual and can be unforgettable.

I was seated preshow on the concrete rim of the pool surrounding the Hermes statue in the villa’s courtyard and was delighted when, amid the chatter of strangers waiting with me for the doors to open, mezzo-soprano Meghan Ihnen started singing wistful songs in another language, alone, unaccompanied, from the balcony. We quieted and Loewen appeared to take us through the villa’s main hall to a patio overlooking the gardens, then down stairs past sculpted Renaissance putti, as bass violinist Ben Willis and saxophonist Nick Zoulek played dark notes in the gathering twilight.

Suddenly Shadow Dance, Roy Staab’s expansive, graceful sculpture of branches and reeds appeared in the glowing garden far below, with motionless, white-clad dancers arranged in its overlapping rings. Beyond, a section of Lincoln Memorial Drive with intermittent traffic and street lights was visible; and past that, a sole tree, grass, boulders, Lake Michigan, a single white sailboat, the darkening sky and, off to the side, a perfect half-moon.

There followed a somewhat treacherous journey down uneven stone steps—the now dry paths of waterfalls. We sat on the steps. I was near the top with the musicians playing right behind me. The dancers were distant, faceless shapes but the sculpture had great presence and the ever-changing patterns of the dance drew me deep into its possibilities. The music stirred my bones.

We carefully inched our way down to the garden and wandered freely among four simultaneous dance/music performances, each so interesting I didn’t want to leave to see the others. Then we were all called to gather around Staab’s sculpture. Viewed at this level, the rings became tilted horizontal bars and the supporting branches resembled a dead forest. Ihnen, Zoulek and Willis improvised a spiritual soundscape and the skillful dancers moved in myriad ways through this willowy underworld. Fires were lighted. Waterfalls ran. A dancer on the patio above cast her huge shadow on the villa wall while her opposite remained at our side, life-size.


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