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Jack Anderson

Haunted Place

OUT OF PLACE -- Iva Bittová and members of Wendy Osserman Dance Company at the Hudson Guild Theater.

"Out of Place"
Wendy Osserman Dance Company featuring Iva Bittová
Presented in association with the Czech Center NY
Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26th Street, Chelsea
March 26-30, 2008
Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m., $20, $15 seniors and students
Tickets: (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, March 28, 2008

Wendy Osserman's choreography and Iva Bittová's music made "Out of Place" a journey to a haunted place of ghosts, spirits, werewolves, and spells somewhere in Eastern Europe where venerable Slavic and Yiddish traditions mingle and the air is filled with scraps of old ballads and fragments of almost-forgotten, yet still disquieting, folk tales.

Bittová did much to maintain a sense of mystery. A Czech violinist and vocalist, she can fiddle and sing at the same time, blending folk, classical, and jazz styles, her voice sounding delicate one moment, gruff and throaty the next. Some of her music was live. But she also performed in counterpoint with recordings. And this production revealed that her movements can be as impressive as her music, for her stage presence made her resemble a village story-teller, or clairvoyant crone.

Osserman and her dancers collaboratively created what could be described as a plotless suite of musical and choreographic episodes, each with its own neat little title. But what was actually shown was far more unruly than what mere description might suggest. Scene flowed into scene, usually without pause, and the titles often appeared to have little direct connection with the action.

Wendy Osserman and Iva Bittová

Ken Laser's setting of fabric strips crisscrossing the back of the stage occasionally glowed like a cobweb under Megan Byrne's lighting. An aura of strangeness was established at the outset of the 85-minute work when darkness was punctuated by low murmurs, sighs, and meows as if from babies or kittens. As the lights brightened, dancers moved, often scooping the air with their arms or letting their arms swing energetically about them. Throughout the piece, Osserman appeared fond of arm swings, sometimes repeating them excessively. Yet, at their best, these motions had great intensity.

Certain moments were especially striking. In one, the sounds of Bittová's violin appeared to bewitch Justin Ternullo, sending him rolling on the floor and jumping and kicking as if possessed. Soon afterward, the music cast a comparable spell on Emily Quant.

As she planted first a heel, and then her toes firmly on the floor, and swiveled about, tapping her toes and stamping her heels, Victoria Lundell could have been engrossed in a fierce folk dance.

Looking statuesque in an enigmatic solo, Osserman may have been a maternal protective presence before she sank feebly downward, only to be revived by Bittová's violin music. A woman stood behind Osserman, as if she were an unexplained presence haunting her.

The final sequence found Bittová fiddling, wailing, and singing madly as dancers staggered in and got themselves entangled with one another on the floor while Bittová made strangulated sounds. At last, everyone looked as if they were being blown away in a tornado of steps. It was easy to understand why Osserman called her finale "The Vampires' Ball."

In addition to those mentioned, the dancers included Cori Kresge, Stephanie Sauer, and Aya Shibahara. The music was composed by Bittová, with additional music by Pavel Fajt and Vladimír Godár.


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