The Wild Space Dance Company visited Lawrence University on Friday, March 31 and performed at 8 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre. The company is a collaboration between several dancers and musicians—the latter group of which included Instructor of Music Sumner Truax on saxophone. The title of their program, “Caught Up in the Moment,” was particularly appropriate since the group relies mainly upon improvisation in their performances. The company has visited Lawrence annually to perform since 2000 as the company-in-residence of the Department of Theatre Arts.
The audience sat in chairs on the theatre stage that were set up with two sections facing each other and one section facing the back wall of the stage. This U-shaped setup allowed every audience member to be physically close to the dancers and musicians as they moved around onstage during the performance.
For the first number, the lights faded out until all was dark in the theatre. Then, a single light lit up several dancers frozen in varied positions on the backstage wall. From its vantage point on the floor and to the side, the light cast the dancers in shadow, making them look like drawings on a cave wall. As one dancer manipulated the light on the ground, the musicians began to make their entrances as well, each from a different location within the theater, creating a thin-textured melody that sounded ghostly and ethereal.
Each act blended seamlessly into the next. Sometimes the dancers would move in tandem with one another, intertwining themselves and holding an embrace while continuing to move with the music. They even went so far as to interact with the musicians, who moved from their offstage positions into the fray of dancers from time to time. The whole company seemed to live and breathe like an organism, with each individual part responding to a slight cue from another. Though the musicians wore shoes, none of the dancers did, so sounds of their feet running and twisting on the floor melted into the sounds of the musicians as they played, adding another layer of music to the performance.
At several points in the show, the group made use of interesting props: a dozen metal bowls filled with water, a large creation made up of taped-together Fed-Ex, Amazon and generic-brand apple boxes and even body-sized sheets of white industrial wrapping paper. In some cases, the props were abused; the box-creation began to fall apart during the show as one company member beat it continually with some sort of tool and kicked it around the stage. At other times, the props took the place of the music; when the dancers began to run around in circles on the stage like a flock of frightened birds, shaking their industrial wrapping paper, the musicians did not even try to play—all that could be heard was the crinkling of the paper and the patter of feet.
One of the most intimate parts of the show was a dance between just two of the dancers, one male and one female. The female dancer began the act by seeming to “trust fall,” letting herself fall backward and then—after sensing that there was no one to catch her—heaving herself back up to a standing position. After a short time of observing this action, the male dancer began to mimic her and finally joined her in what seemed to be a loving dance duet of trust falling together. Despite this chemistry, the pair eventually broke apart because the male dancer kept beckoning for the female dancer to follow and she would not oblige him, so, at long last, he transitioned offstage, leaving her alone.
At all times during the performance, the dancers moved boldly and confidently, at many points coming close to touching members of the audience or running into other dancers or musicians. Miraculously, no collisions occurred. The dancers moved with utter grace and smoothness, and the musicians sculpted an intriguing backdrop of sound with which they could interact and adapt. The performance seemed to leave everyone in a slight daze afterwards due to the slight hesitation to applaud, but once the applause began, the appreciation and awe that it conveyed with its depth could not be doubted. Throughout their show, the Wild Space Dance Company showed that improvisation—though it occurs when its performers are “caught up in the moment”—can have organic cohesion and create meaning just as easily as a prepared performance.