Wendy Osserman dedicated her company’s 30th anniversary season to Victoria Lundell, who has worked with her for nine years. A similar steadfastness marks Osserman’s choreography. I can see why Lundell, who danced with the companies of Mark Morris and David Parsons, enjoys being part of this small group that’s off the radar in terms of trendiness and honors the expressive body, sometimes eloquently. Osserman tailored the solo In vain the speeding or shyness. . . to Lundell’s grasp of movement’s emotional dynamics. Inspired by a line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself and set to a Corelli Largo, the piece shows how sensitively Lundell can negotiate transitions between suddenly rushing, pausing to gaze warily around, and flinging her limbs or her whole self into the air. Something is jerking inside this woman, but, finally calm, she exits in silence.
Seven of the eight short chamber works on the anniversary program are new (the other, Bodyscape, an excerpt from a 2004 work, is Kevin Freeman’s closeup film exploration of Lundell’s naked flesh). I wish I’d seen the program elsewhere. The ambiance at Theater for the New City—such a valuable venue for new drama—isn’t ideal for dance. The house, shabby and unkempt, its slightly elevated stage floor covered with wrinkle-pocked black marley, contrasts with the vivid paintings by Annie Sailer that fill the backdrop, morphing via video manipulation.
Those paintings, their varied color schemes and bold evolving shapes, decorate the dances more than they enhance the choreographic themes. Osserman tends to build each piece around a single, multi-faceted concepts, and the backdrops seem too lush in comparison. In Anthropozoophyte, Josselyn Levinson morphs from a floorbound creature, locking her feet around each other, into an awkward but increasingly confident biped. The two “she” ‘s in Who She Is, Emily Quant and Aya Shibahara—costumed alike by Jennifer Brightbill in brown dresses over short pants—could be twins or alter egos; their big scalloping dancing takes them into both synchrony and confrontation. Confrontatation is the main event in another duet, Falling Mirror. Lundell and Ofelia Loret de Mola slash and stagger; wrapped in the ominous noises and echoing voices of Alon Nechushtan’s music, they’re sometimes tender, sometimes fiercely manipulative with each other.
One of the finest pieces on the program is another duet, Armadura, performed by Loret de Mola and Enrique Guzmán, both Mexican-born. The two—apparently beset by difficulties—stay close together. Tender but tough, they are each other’s burdens, bearers, obstacles, and comforters. Their specific dilemma may be mysterious, but everything they do radiantly expresses their feelings and the push-pull of their relationship. In Puppetrio, on the other hand, Osserman dives into more complications without fully articulating the ideas that engender them. Quant, Shibahara, and Patrick Welsh move like would-be bravura performers who haven’t quite mastered their balance or their limbs. Sometimes they’re as jerky as mismanaged puppets. Midway through, they pull masks from under their shirts and put them on. Anger and disgruntlement enter the picture.
The endings of these works are often inconclusive, as if time had simply run out.
Osserman has made political pieces before, but her Imagine/non lethal force may be the bitterest. It starts out funny, with Lundell, Quant, and the choreographer pressed together like a multi-armed parade figure, while Lundell sings a parody of “My Funny Valentine” addressed to George W. Bush and takes a large bite out of a banana. Then Lundell and Quant turn their jackets backward, strut, and coax acclaim from an invisible crowd, while in Tom Compagnoni’s “Mash,” fragments of W.’s bellicose speechifying ironically mingle with lines from the Beatle’s “Imagine” and its idealistic vision of a peaceful world. Finally, Osserman, alone in a spotlight, starts twisting, kicking, and clawing, as if the beast in her were taking over. It takes a while to realize that what she’s growling out and licking her chops over is “The Star-Spangled Banner.” No more Ms. Nice Choreographer. Powerful stuff. You go girl!