Set Surrenders to Dance

Event: SURRENDER — Wendy Osserman Dance Company
Location: The Duke on 42nd Street, 06.06-09.07
Choreography: Wendy Osserman in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Charis Haines; Cori Kresge; Victoria Lundell; Wendy Osserman; Emily Quant; Aya Shibahara; Justin Ternullo
Composer: Rosi Hertlein
Musicians: Rosi Hertlein; Warren Smith
Lighting Design: Kathy Kaufmnan
Set Design: Illya Azaroff, Assoc. AIA — the design collective studio
Costumes: Cori Kresge; Aya Shibahara


The set for SURRENDER evokes Klimt and Ernst.

Illya Azaroff

Both architecture and dance can explore the relation between performer and environment. “Dance is a testing ground for architectural ideas,” says Illya Azaroff, Assoc. AIA, Director of Design of the design collective studio and set designer for SURRENDER, recently performed by the Wendy Osserman Dance Company. The performance was inspired by the work of Gustav Klimt and Max Ernst, and in response to the paintings and the dancers’ movement, Azaroff created a set that both highlights and camouflages the performers. Along with the integrated lighting, costumes, and music, the boundaries among different media rhythmically shift throughout.

The minimal set is a collage comprised of three elements: a suspended ladder-like component stage right; a white, slashing sculpture stage left; and a swooping curtain moving from the ceiling stage right to the floor stage left. Each element shifts in meaning and use throughout the performance. For example, in “The Fall” the set seems to take cue from the dancer’s actions — when she flows, her movement blends with the curtain; when she agitatedly gestures, the sculpture seems to argue with her. In “Seasnakes” the colors of the costumes blend in with patterns projected onto the curtain. Dancers alternate fading in with and separating from the background as they carry cumbersome objects on their backs. When they strip from their burdens, the sculpture acts as a shelter protecting them as they expose their inner selves. And in the final piece, “Owning It,” the ladder is the central object. The scattered, rectangular lighting on the floor appears as if rungs had fallen from above.

In conversation with Azaroff, he discussed the collaborative process with Osserman, focusing on how the discourse about Klimt and Ernst paintings enhanced the design process. While Osserman concentrated on composition, Azaroff was captivated by space. As they both began to incorporate human scale into the performance, the set and dances were developed separately but equally. Ultimately, the music, costumes, and light created the overlap needed to fuse all of the elements together.

The many layers recall Surrealism and Symbolism in general, but it is the performer/environment relationship that highlights the direct connection to Klimt and Ernst. Sometimes blending and other times acting in opposition to each other, the set and dancers inhabit the stage defining and redefining their relation to each other. The design collective’s website states that the driving force behind the firm’s work is to assemble collaborative teams to create “landscapes of the imagination.” SURRENDER exemplifies this in every way.