Wild Space Dance Company founder and artistic director Debra Loewen is no stranger to thinking outside of the traditional performance box. In fact, she and the company have been bringing site-specific work to venues throughout Milwaukee for over 25 years.
Their latest work, "Milwaukee 360°," endeavors to continue this tradition, staking temporary claim to The Brewery Parking Structure at 910 W. Juneau Ave. – and the dynamic visuals that come with it.
"Parking garages have stories to them. They're a cinematic space," said Loewen. "There's unusual lighting, there's kind of a darkness that hangs around them. But, they're just really interesting spaces to me, so I thought it would be fun to see if I could make something in a parking structure."
The new production will make use of the space in a number of ways, including the structure's picturesque skyline view.
"It's called 'Milwaukee 360°' because from the top you can see a panoramic view of the entire city, and it's really beautiful," she explained. "The audience will come in and they will see something on the first floor, and then we'll take them up on the elevators to the top."
"Milwaukee 360°" isn't just about the rooftop view, however. Staging on the first floor will provide equally engaging views and its own take on incorporating the organic nature of the space.
"The downstairs space is like an onion – there's all these different levels," Loewen said of the concept. "There's a lot of urban traffic. People are living their lives as they're walking past the window and the dance is happening on the inside, but the minute they walk into the frame they're in the piece. The whole community is in it, though half of them don't know that they are.
"That's really beautiful. It would cost me a million dollars to get a set designer to make that kind of set, to have a cast of extras from the city of Milwaukee that just happen to walk past."
Turning the audience and passersby into part of the performance may seem trendy or avant garde – and it very well may be – but in Loewen's mind it's more about being resourceful and adapting her work to the canvas of the stage she's chosen.
"We can't make them go away, so you learn that you better embrace what's not going to change, or you better go on to someplace else," she said. "That's what's fun. There's always surprises."
Pulling a professional dance performance out of its element is a bold move, but it also requires careful planning to ensure things run smoothly – and safely.
"The organization, the paperwork, the city, the liability, all of that, is a lot of stuff. There's all kinds of things that come into play with doing these things that have to be sorted out," said Loewen. "I also needed to work in a structure where I could trust that we could have a little control as to shutting off some of the top levels so people aren't going to drive through. The Zilber Corporation, the developers, were very helpful in kind of clearing the way for me to do stuff there."
Wild Space Dance Company will perform "Milwaukee 360°" Sept. 20-22 nightly at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Audience members looking for a more in-depth experience can purchase premium $25 tickets, which include the performance and a special pre-show talk with Jim Haertel of Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery.
"These are events. It's not going to be a show you're going to be able to see again," said Loewen. "That brings people's attention to it, and they come back, and they always remember the space in a very different and unusual way. I call it a cultural imprint of place and occasion. It brings the city to the people, who sometimes don't recognize it.
"Everybody goes to work and they do their thing and they don't take time to say, 'Wow, this is where I live.' It makes them aware of what happens when communities come together and things get developed in lovely and unusual ways. That's kind of the crux of it."
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.