Preview: Wild Space dances with Bamberger’s videosJanuary 27th, 2010 |
A close-up image of stems of long-fallen leaves, soil, gravel, a bit of broken pavement in autumnal shades of browns and grays filled Tom Bamberger’s computer screen. Bamberger assured me that the image was a video, not a still picture, and put up a progress bar to prove it.
“It’s one minute long,” he said. “Just watch the screen and then tell me what you see.”
I watched closely. Since I knew it was video and I anticipated change, I was alert for it. But 60 seconds later, everything appeared to be the same. Anyone who’s been on Milwaukee’s arts scene knows Bamberger’s sly grin, which crossed his face when I told him nothing had changed.
“OK, you see what the image is now,” he said, then typed in a command. “Here’s what it was a minute ago.”
The color scheme was different, not slightly but radically. The image changed the way the hands of a clock change; undetectable under a steady gaze, but apparent if you look away for a bit then come back to it.
Bamberger showed me several more videos as we waited, at his Walker’s Point photography studio, for choreographer Debra Loewen to arrive. The tangled branches in canopies of trees imperceptibly retied themselves over time. Ice turned to water. A side view of what might have been a field of grass or wheat imperceptibly shifted from random growth to a highly regimented repetition of a single repeated reed.
Bamberger made these images by arranging large numbers of digital stills in careful order and then converting them to frames of video. The fascination, for him, has to do with his theories of vision and perception, and of how we unconsciously blind ourselves to certain types of information. The fascination for most people will be the delightful trickery and the intense beauty of the images.
We can experience that trickery and beauty on an epic scale at Wild Space Dance concerts this weekend. Loewen will show Bamberger’s videos three at a time on three 16-by-9-foot screens in a vast industrial space in the Third Ward. Dancers and members of the audience will move freely through the space in Loewen’s By Accident and Necessity, which, in keeping with Bamberger’s aesthetic, will have no clear beginning, middle or end. You come when you come, you go when you go, you walk where you will. No two members of the audience will have the same experience.
From Bamberger’s studio, Loewen and I went to the nearby Oregon Street Warehouse, a huge, vacant building at the border of the Third Ward and Walker’s Point. We took the big freight elevator to the fifth floor, a single room with a 20-plus foot ceiling and very widely spaced pillars. In the late winter morning, light flooded in through high banks of windows on all four sides.
“The ambient light from the city is amazing in this space at night, too,” Loewen said. She and lighting designer Jan Kellogg intend to use that light as part of the piece, as they will use spill from Bamberger’s projected videos to light dancers and audience. The space is so big that they will be able to create islands of light for fleeting dances in the far corners of the building. Little clusters of chairs will help direct the audience to such activities and allow people to take a load off. Loewen will even have a social area with hot cider; the murmur of conversation will become part of the music. When we met, Loewen wasn’t sure what other sound might be part of By Accident, but knew it would be ambient rather than presentational. Nothing else would work in this cavernous space.
“Anything we use would have to handle an echo of itself,” she said.
The dancing, too, will be ambient in a way. Big, focused athletic moves by the 11 dancers would be lost in the enormous space and the dim light.
“There’s a great deal of restraint and quiet,” Loewen said, “and single flashes of movements you don’t see again. Or maybe two people dance a phrase, and later seven people do it.”
In most collaborations between visual artists and dance companies, the artists are junior partners; they make the backdrop, the frame for the dancing. Not so with this one. The room, and its cathedral-like charged air, is the frame. Bamberger’s videos, Loewen’s dancers and the audience are equal partners within it.
“My concern is how much overlay of movement is too much,” Loewen said. “This is an installation with a performance. It’s really Tom’s work with a human presence.”
By Accident and Necessity runs from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 29-30, at the Oregon Street Warehouse, 221 E. Oregon St.; enter through 235 Pittsburgh St. Tickets are $16 and $20, $12 for students and seniors. Visit the Wild Space website or call the company at 414-271-0712.