Iva Bittova and Wendy Osserman Dance Company collaborate on ‘Out of Place’

Iva Bittova, the celebrated Czech singer, musician and composer, will perform with the Wendy Osserman Dance Company March 26 to 30, 2008 in “Out of Place,” a collaborative work created for and by her. Bittova will dance as well as provide the musical score for this new evening length piece. Performances will be at Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 26th Street, Manhattan.

“Out of Place” challenges the customary relationships between dancers and musicians by exchanging and expanding these roles: Bittova will perform as a dancer as well as a musician and singer with seven WODC members, some of whom sing with her. Osserman’s choreography reflects the range of expression, humor, imagination and character that Bittova brings to her music.

Wendy Osserman and Iva Bittova.
Wendy Osserman (L) and Iva Bittova (R). Photo by Liz Magic Laser.

Music for the evening, mostly written by Bittova, will vary in style from classical to avant-garde. Selections will range from delicate poetic pieces to works with the driving rhythms of folk dance. Bittova has an unusual ability to sing and scat while playing the violin. Her remarkable voice can range from low rumbles to high soprano trills, and bursts out in such vocal effects as baby voices, squeaks and animal sounds.

It all offers manifold inspiration for Wendy Osserman, for whom dancing is acting. She says, “The songs have a wide range of mood and a feeling of character.” She attests that Bittova’s rhythms speak to her and that she finds something familiar, fun and irresistible in all the work of this Czech musician/composer, “probably owing to my Russian/German background.” Osserman hears animals and birds in Bittova’s songs, which are often inspired by Moravian folk songs and are informed by such modernists as Bartok and Janacek. Osserman is also drawn to Bittova’s emotional depth, which is a major source of her popularity among international audiences.

Both Osserman and Bittova like to work improvisationally and Bittova relishes movement. The duo are discovering her movement together. Osserman says that the material lends itself to her own choreographic affinity for “maximum expressiveness,” with sudden, abrupt movement, doing many things in one phrase. “The face can dance as well,” she says. “One thing I’m not, as a choreographer, is cool-ly abstract.”

Among the works in preparation are a solo by Wendy Osserman based on “Ecce Puer” (It’s a Boy), a poem by James Joyce, and a piece danced by Justin Termullo to a Yiddish text that employs the sculptural qualities of Egon Schiele. Both compositions were inspired by Bittova but written by Czech composer Vladimir Godar.

As of this writing, Bittova will have two choreographed solos in an evening of about ten sections.

Emily Quant and Gary Lai in a recent performance with Wendy Osserman Dance Company.
Wendy Osserman Dance Company is resident dance company of Chelsea Art Museum, NYC. Here, Emily Quant and Gary Lai appear in a recent performance.

“Out of Place” represents a recent development of Osserman’s work toward increasing musicality. She remembers, “For years, I stayed away from music to find out the essence of I was doing artistically, not to be dependent on it. This time, the music danced me.” It is her second recent collaboration with a musician/composer; last year, she collaborated extensively with violinist Rosi Hertlein, with whom WODC continues to perform in its residency at Chelsea Art Museum.

Wendy Osserman Dance Company (www.wendyossermandance.org) recently became Dance Company in Residence at the Chelsea Art Museum. It has performed in NYC for the past three decades at venues such as the Kitchen, DTW, St. Mark’s Church, Judson Church, Symphony Space, and Joyce Soho. Recent appearances have been presented by The Vision Festival, Dixon Place, Theatre Within, Dancenow/NYC/DancemOpolitan at Joe’s Pub, and Theater for the New City. Before forming a company, Osserman performed her choreography in Europe and appeared as a soloist with Kei Takei, Frances Alenikoff, Valerie Bettis, Alice Condodina, and the Hellenic Chorodrama throughout Greece. She studied choreography with Anna Sokolow, Robert Ellis Dunn, Bessie Schonberg and Martha Myers.

Emily Quant and Victoria Lundell of Wendy Osserman Dance Company.
Blessedly nonliteral Emily Quant and Victoria Lundell of Wendy Osserman Dance Company.

Osserman’s choreography has been described as “blessedly nonliteral” by Jennifer Dunning (New York Times) and “powerful stuff” by Deborah Jowitt (Village Voice). The work explores the many sides of our personalities and relationships including our relationship to the larger world. Osserman relishes confusing the personal with the political and historical. As a performer, she has been called “absolutely savory… (it was) as if Lou Reed had choreographed.” (ICI, Montreal). The collaborative process has always been central to Osserman’s work, with the dancers involved in writing and improvisation. Eva Yaa Asantewaa wrote, “If I were a choreographer I’d envy Osserman for her smashing ensemble . . . They are the right dancers for her sculptural, expressionistic poetry.”

Iva Bittova, CD cover.
Iva Bittova, CD cover.

Iva Bittova is a native of Bruntal and ranks among the most remarkable representatives of the Czech alternative scene. She studied music and drama at the Brno Conservatory, and for more than a decade was a member of the ensemble of Brno’s Divadlo na provazku (“Theatre on a String”). She has appeared in several feature films including “Zelary,” a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Academy Awards. In 2005, she performed with the composer’s collective, “Bang on a Can,” at Carnegie Hall. She will appear with Bang on A Can once again in NYC in February.

Her activities range from her own interpretations of folk songs through experimental jazz and rock music, to classical music adaptations. Among her 17 CDs are six solo albums including “44 Duets for Two Violins by Bela Bartok.” In addition to her solo concerts, she has performed with noted musicians including George Mraz, Fred Frith, Tom Cora, Chris Cutler, and David Moss and ensembles such as S.E.M. Ensemble and Nederlands Blazers Ensemble throughout the Czech Republic, Europe and the U.S.A.

Bittova was featured in a series of performances of “Don Juan in Prague” at BAM in December of 2006, and in 2008 she continues to tour the US, Mexico & Canada, performing her music. In New York Magazine, Alicia Zuckerman described “the powerhouse performer Iva Bittova-a forward-thinking composer who sings and plays violin simultaneously … Her sound is invigorating, urgent, and also soothing; it is a fusion of Old World and new-music sensibilities, infused with the spirit and language of Czech, Slovak, and Moravian music.”

NPR declared in All Things Considered, “Iva Bittova is an extraordinary artist. Raw and refined, passionate and contained, she has the soul of a gypsy, the voice of a troubadour, and the mind of a genius.”

Performances are March 26 to 30, 2008 at Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street, Manhattan. The event is presented by Wendy Osserman Dance Company in association with the Czech Center, NY. Shows are 8:00 pm Wednesday through Saturday and 3:00 pm Sunday. Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 seniors/students and may be ordered through SMARTTIX at (212) 868-4444 or online at www.smarttix.com.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.