BWW Dance Review: WENDY OSSERMAN's 40th Anniversary Season
Dance that bore little relationship with meandering though well played music. That's what met the audience on April 20th, 2016 for Wendy Osserman Dance Company's 40th Anniversary Season at Theatre for a New City on April 20th, 2016.
Ms. Osserman's work has a stream of consciousness quality to it; the dancing happens with little ceremony and even less indication of how it will proceed. This sense of casual ambiance set the stage for what felt like a purposefully disjointed evening- or a visit to grandmother's house: uncomfortably intimate and unavoidable. In the premiere of "Timed" Ms. Osserman displayed a confidently playful personality as she noodled around the stage with light shifts of weight and twists in her hips. It was dancing that wasn't necessarily dancing; she could have been making it all up on the fly and she probably was, calling to mind a dotty aunt dancing to her favorite tune as she prepared supper. What emerged was a rumination on the state of time and one's lack of awareness of its scope. Breaking into a spoken monologue, Ms. Osserman highlighted the statement "time flies when you're having fun" and closed with a feeling that was no longer fun. Two minutes and 45 seconds before the conclusion, she called out to her unseen stage manager (Kathleen Scott) "How much time do I have?". Coming to a near stand still, she did the same 1 minute and 30 seconds later before ending with the statement "I feel like I'm out of time". This sudden despair felt random and yet fully organic at the same time. One accepts such odd pronouncements from their family members even as those statements shock.
In contrast with Ms. Osserman, her dancers (Lauren Ferguson, Cori Kresge, Joshua Tuason, and Emily Vetsch- all wonderful) deployed a flat though intensely committed performance style. Their dancing was a puzzle with no indication of how the picture would resolve. It is not surprising that three of the dancers have worked with Merce Cunningham's Repertory Understudy Group or The Cunningham Trust. The companywide detached performance style was at odds with the frequently intimate choreography. These dancers could have been engaged in kitchen sink squabbles and we would never have known it, given their blank expressions. The movement often delivered sudden drops, falls, and catches that would have resulted in catastrophic injury had a dancer missed the mark- almost like a relationship that is maturing independently of the participants' awareness.
"Udjat" opened the concert with Ms. Vetsch in a suspended handstand that evolved into her grappling through the space in supported and unassisted lifts. She and her colleagues became ravenous animals in need of connection. In the premiere of "Quick Time" (which was choreographed in collaboration with the dancers) numerous moments that felt like the most frightening version of structured improv continued to coalesce and shock before flying into new movement sequences. A particularly intense duet between Ms. Kresge and Mr. Tuason found the dancers facing off and nearly tackling one another before shifting into a tender embrace from behind that suddenly launched Ms. Kresge's legs fanning through the air.
With committed dancers like these carving through the space, the set design (by Sanya Kantaravosky) felt like an afterthought. Though far from integral to the work, her projections of sculptural shapes were perfectly innocuous and in keeping with the "hippie" ambiance that Ms. Osserman's work evoked. They made one think, "Just chill and let it all happen." The lighting (designed by Alex Bartenieff) -- which was layered across the stage so as to give the dancers the appearance that they were emerging through walls of light -- was wonderful and showed that Ms. Osserman was in charge of her creation on all levels. Far less cohesive to the evening (at least for this viewer) were the contributions of composer Skip La Plante. Beautifully played by Mr. La Plante and Henry Mann, the music sounded like a jazz inflected interpretation of World Music, which would have been fine had it meshed with what the dancers were doing. Though pleasant to hear, the music distracted from what was transpiring onstage and forced the audience to exert great concentration in order to stay engaged. And yet I wanted to engage; if only the music had assisted me.