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Review: Milwaukee Opera Theatre & Danceworks Team Up for ENCHANTED PARK(ING LOT)

Innovative theater makes magic in these eerie times

Review: Milwaukee Opera Theatre & Danceworks Team Up for ENCHANTED PARK(ING LOT)

Leave it to Milwaukee Opera Theatre (MOT) and Danceworks to beautifully contort themselves to keep up with the times. In their sixth collaboration, Directors Jill Anna Ponasik and Dani Kuepper take the theatrics to an Enchanted Park(ing lot). Finding a way to go out of doors -- now that's thinking outside the black box.

For those of you just tuning in: Live theater is suffering big time thanks to COVID. Moving productions outside simply isn't a viable option for many companies. But MOT and Danceworks dared to do it. Both groups are small enough to pivot, renowned enough to draw a crowd, and plucky enough to pull it off. In fact, anyone who's seen a Danceworks/MOT collab before likely wasn't all that surprised to learn that their next locale would be a parking lot along the river, where patrons are asked to BYO blankets, chairs, and warming beverages.

How does it work? Purchase tickets ahead of time at danceworksmke.org. You'll be assigned a numbered parking space in which to set up your chairs and enjoy. Enchanted Park(ing lot) features just eight pieces of music and dance for a 45 minute performance. For a near-hour of live entertainment -- a joy that's increasingly impossible to come by these days -- it's so worth it to mask up and brave an October night.

As for the show itself, it lives up to its name. It's also haunting, which is fitting for the season. Most of the eight pieces feature a mix of song and dance. I find that movement helps to drive home a mood in those songs not performed in English. Some of the dancing is frantic and disjointed, which feels relatable nowadays whether or not that was the intention. In other pieces, dancers seemed to play catch with energy and push away shadows.

"Danse Macabre" features a flurry of dancers, sweeping through the brush to take their places on the pavement. With Becky Schulz on violin and Joe Riggenbach lending both his baritone and mandolin, the song-and-dance troupe delivered a spectacularly spooky little showstopper. Here's a snippet of the translation:

The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.

See? Told you it was haunting. Other standouts include a structured improvisation by the Danceworks Youth Performance Company, a gorgeous Copland song-and-dance duet by soprano Tiana Sorenson and dancer Maggie Seer, and a transfixing finale by tenor Emanuel Camacho. Another favorite: "Sixth Sense," a structured improvisation featuring the gorgeous movements of Christal Wagner and Michael "Ding!" Lorenz playing tuned crystal glasses. You read that right. Unreal.

Of course don't forget the many other musicians, singers, and dancers, as well as those behind the lighting and costumes, tech and audio. As I walked back to my car, sad to leave and wondering when my next live show would be, I marveled at the artists who brought this Enchanted Park(ing lot) to life. How do they feel about this work? Is it fulfilling? Full of strangeness? To me, it was a gift.

Together, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks took an eerie moment in theater history and found a way to make magic. While I hope the days of parking lot performances will soon be behind us, I'm grateful to these companies for their unrelenting innovation.

So snag a ticket, grab a chair, and head to the Danceworks parking lot. Support these local artists, and keep an ear out for other ways to (safely) support our entertainers. It's only through our engagement as audiences that live theater will survive. If this industry occupies a room in your heart, as it does mine, show it by showing up in whatever way you can.

Photo credit: Mark Frohna



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From This Author - Kelsey Lawler