By Anne Lauren Carr
One thing is very clear – Wendy Osserman is feeling the merciless tick of the clock. Her company, The Wendy Osserman Dance Company, celebrated its 40th Anniversary last week with four performances at Theater for the New City. The evening included Osserman’s 1985 work Udjat, and two premieres: Timed, a solo work for Osserman, and QuickTime, showcasing her strong ensemble of four dancers and two musicians.
Osserman is as much of a New York Theater scene establishment as Theater for the New City itself. As a young artist in NYC, she studied with the likes of Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Anna Sokolow. Garnering a B.A. in Smith College and M.A. from NYU, she is a lauded choreographer and teacher whose work has been presented all over the world. Yet she returns here, to the city where it all began, to celebrate this milestone.
The evening opens with Udjat, which seems a series of hieroglyphs brought to life. Drawing its name from the Egyptian symbol of the sacred eye, it is an odd, imagery-heavy work, intensely performed by Osserman’s three female dancers Lauren Ferguson, Cori Kresge, and Emily Vetsch. They rise like mummies from tombs and shape ancient symbols and hieroglyphs with their bodies. Distancing themselves from this three-dimensional art form, the dancers flatten themselves and move from shape to shape with flexed hands and feet to the empty sounds of wind and bells. It is if we are staring at a moving wall, reading a series of shapes rather than watching a dance.
Timed is a solo premiere created and performed by Osserman. After so many years of creating work, it’s little wonder that she’s evaluating her relationship to time, though her spry form would have you think otherwise. “My body can move faster than my brain can think,” she says, gazing at the audience as she bounces around the stage. Stomping her feet and stretching her arms, she embodies a ticking clock as her stage manager calls out warnings; first of her remaining minutes…then seconds…then darkness. Though Osserman herself brings an air of whimsical lightness to the work, as an audience member I can’t help but contemplate the minutes and seconds counting down to our own darkness. Time waits for no woman – not even a choreographer.
QuickTime, the second premiere on the program, is the longest work of the evening. Presented in four parts, it features the three previous female dancers, as well as Joshua Tuason, her statuesque and powerful male dancer. The music – live, a true treat for dance nowadays – is written and performed by musical director and collaborator Skip La Plante and performed alongside jazz musician Harry Mann. The work, like Osserman, is quirky. It isn’t pretty; nor does it claim to be. It simply exists – as an exploration, as a collaboration between musicians and movers. They share the space, on a physical level yet also on a deeper level; spiritual, perhaps.
In QuickTime, as in Timed, it’s unclear if the work is choreographed or improvised. It is less of a performance and more of an experience as if the movement is being imposed upon the dancers. This leads to an incredible sense of presence onstage; they are much more concerned with how they relate to one another than with how they look. This is an advantage – even when the movement begins to run together, it remains arresting to watch, for the performers are discovering the work at the same time we are.
QuickTime was nothing groundbreaking or new; rather, I feel as if I could have seen this exact program in the exact theater thirty years ago. It is true New York downtown dance: antiquated, almost irrelevant nowadays, which is precisely what makes it so important. Because after 40 years, Wendy Osserman is still here.
QuickTime ran through Saturday, 4/23 at the Theater for the New City.