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Modern Dance At Old Theater
Wendy Osserman's "more is more is more or less"
August 29, 2009

Four
modern dancers — and a painter — come to the Old Theater on September 3rd. Those two art forms, which usually don’t share the same stage are part of a performance of “more is more is more or less” by the Wendy Osserman Dance Company.

Milan Misko, Emily Quant, and Cori Kresge of the Wendy Osserman Dance Company in “more is more is more is less” which will be performed Sept 3 at the Old Theater. (Photo credit: Jeremy Tressler, 2009)

The dance company is based in New York, where part-time Oriental resident and choreographer Wendy Osserman lives the rest of the year. She and the three dancers — Cori Kresge, Milan Misko and Emily Quant — first performed “more is more..” in late May in Manhattan. Wendy’s been living in Oriental for the summer and decided to bring the modern dance performance — in what is thought to be a first — to the Old Theater.

Wendy Osserman in the New York production of “more is more is more or less”. (Photo credit: Jeremy Tressler, 2009)

“More is more..” is inspired by the works of writer Gertrude Stein, who a century ago, developed a writing style that turned conventional narrative on its head. Her phrasing could be repetitious and circular — “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” is perhaps her most quoted line. It’s been more than 65 years since Stein’s death, and yet, Wendy Osserman says, “she is still so modern. And uncompromising.”

Stein lived in Paris at a time when then-emerging Modern painters such as Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso were developing new styles, such as Cubism. Stein took what they were doing on canvas and applied it to her writing. Now that inspiration that flowed from a painter’s brush to a writer’s pen are lending themselves to dance.

Wendy Osserman in her studio just outside of Oriental.

“She played hard with words. What she did with words is very close to what choreographers do with movement,” Osserman says. “We’ll move it around, and say, ‘What could this be if it were upside down? Or backwards? Or inside out?’ We play with movement the way she played with language.”

Stein’s work often springs from what Osserman calls, a “very circular movement,” which, she says, “makes it good for dancers.”

The title of the performance “more is more is more or less” did not come from Stein’s pen. Rather, the line is Wendy Osserman’s. She says she was looking for something “Steinese”.

Performed in Manhattan in May, “more is more is more or less” comes to Oriental on September 3. (Photo credit: Jeremy Tressler, 2009)

“more is more is more …” echoes the same Stein rhythm that gave us “Rose is a rose is a rose…” But on another level, Osserman says, “Stein loved contradictions. She’d say one thing and then contradict it. It’s part of the Cubism maybe, trying to look at things from many sides.”

As for the meaning, Wendy answers with a few questions. “Is more more? Or less?” She notes the architectural concept of “less is more” and says that some of the more minimalist versions of modern dance make more use of “stillnesses” than does her own choreography.

Wendy Osserman in what was to be the garage and is now the dance studio at her home.

But don’t look for a minimalist approach in “more is more…”

“I can’t do it.” Wendy says. “I’m interested in expression. And fullness. And the moment.”

“For me more is more… “

In keeping with that idea, the dancers will share the stage with visual artist Sarah Olson who will be painting a canvas during — and as part of — the performance. That’s an homage to the painters who inspired Stein and who at times made dancers the subjects of their paintings. There will also be some readings from Gertrude Stein’s works in the 85-minute show.

Czech musician and composer Iva Bittova had worked with Wendy in developing the piece, and performed when it was presented in Manhattan. She won’t be coming to Oriental, but her music will be heard.

Visual artist Sarah Olson, who paints during the performance, shown here in the May production of “more is more…” in New York. (Photo credit: Jeremy Tressler, 2009)

In May, the New York Times wrote that “Wendy Osserman has been making quirky, highly individual work for years.” Another reviewer has written of “Osserman’s sculptural, expressionistic poetry.”

She’s been dancing for 60 years, having taken her first lessons — in ballet — in Manhattan with the Ballet Russe when she was 7. While she absorbed the traditional technique, her focus turned to modern dance, and she studied with some of the leaders of that movement — among them Martha Graham and Jose Limon. For the past 4 decades, Wendy’s been performing, choreographing, teaching and running her dance company in Manhattan.

In Oriental this summer, she’s been leading classes in Authentic Movement on Saturdays and has been a regular at the Thursday night Drummin’ Dragons sessions at Lou Mac Park. There she dances to the drums.

Wendy Osserman dancing at a Drummin’ Dragons session at Lou-Mac Park this summer. Nol Engel is at left..

All of that and the upcoming performance are happening because a few years ago, Wendy and her husband, architect Ken Laser, bought a lot outside of Oriental. Ken designed their home with a distinctive sail-like sweep of a roof. The house, modern as Wendy’s dance, has also undergone some improvisation from Ken’s original design. A wooden floor was installed in the garage a few months ago, and the space once planned for cars has become Wendy’s dance studio. It’s where she and the dancers in her company will rehearse for their Old Theater performance.

Wendy Osserman.

The Old Theater’s September 3 performance of “more is more is more or less” starts at 7:30p. Tickets are $15 and on sale now at Croakertown and Bank of the Arts (in New Bern). For more info, contact info@oldtheater.org

Posted Saturday August 29, 2009 by Melinda Penkava


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