Wild Space Dance Company is a fitting name for Debra Loewen’s dance company, which she formed in Milwaukee 25 years ago. It was, after all, the wild, open spaces in Milwaukee that drew her back to her home state to earn her MFA in dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts.
A Wisconsin native, Loewen began her dance training in Stevens Point, later earning a BFA degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While teaching at the University of Delaware, Loewen formed her first company, with an artistic focus on site-specific choreography, including performances in buildings, gardens, over a lake and in an empty swimming pool. She later traveled and lived in South America, where she taught, choreographed and performed with Ballet Moderno and the National Ballet of Peru. Returning to the states, Loewen worked in New York City as a solo performer and independent choreographer, and studied with Robert Ellis Dunn. The lack of space and high cost of living in New York limited her opportunities. She decided she wanted to work in a more supportive environment and headed back to the Midwest.
As one of the first group of students in the Peck School’s MFA Dance program, Loewen found a lot of freedom and independence in her studies. “The gift that a graduate program can offer is to help you find your own path,” she says.
After completing her MFA, Loewen decided to put down roots in Milwaukee. “It’s an interesting environment,” she says. “People here have that Midwest work ethic. Artists in this community really do the work, and they really love to work hard to make it happen.”
Loewen didn’t initially think that she would start a company again, but she knew she wanted to choreograph. After continuing to work with her colleagues from the graduating class of 1982, she began Wild Space, which focuses on artistic collaboration and site-specific performance. Since the company’s founding in 1986, Loewen has garnered choreographic fellowships from the Milwaukee County Individual Artists Fellowship Program, the Wisconsin Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts, and recently was honored by the Milwaukee Arts Board as a 2011 Artist of the Year.
Today, she also shares what she learned at UWM with young dancers as a senior lecturer at the Peck School of the Arts. “At UWM, I really played with ideas that were open ended, that didn’t have to have a product. Now I give my students these tools to do their own projects,” she says, adding this piece of advice for them: “Realize you are a part of what’s happening. I’m here to pass the baton, so go do something! Go make work!”