"The day that it was really definite that MoMing was gone I was crying," says Amy Osgood, "and my son Spencer said, 'What's wrong?' When I told him he said, 'You'll find another MoMing, Mom.'
"Now he says, 'Mom, you have a new MoMing,' because he sees I'm still dancing. So in his mind MoMing has gone away, but MoMing must be something else."
As of last fall Osgood and Jan Bartoszek, choreographers who've both been working in Chicago since the mid-70s, had a joint concert scheduled for MoMing's 1990-'91 season. That concert went the way of all spring 1991 performances at MoMing, which closed in December after 17 years of operation. But when Osgood and Bartoszek contacted Woody White, managing director at the Dance Center of Columbia College, he agreed to present their concert, "Two Women's Tales," under the aegis of the Dance Center's DC Two program.
The loss of MoMing was as much of a blow to Bartoszek as to Osgood: "It was where my whole career was built, everything--teaching, performing, taking classes, rehearsing. It's a lot more difficult to do all those things other places." As a teacher at MoMing, for instance, she used to get free rehearsal time for her concerts; now she must pay for that time at other locations. But though Osgood and Bartoszek believe there are now far fewer opportunities in Chicago, for the time being they're staying, and neither choreographer is content to stand still.
For "Two Women's Tales," Osgood is expanding a work she premiered a year ago, Venus Rogues, into a trilogy. Insomnia was the source of the original work, she says: she lay awake at night thinking of Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus. "It got me thinking about feminine beauty, and what it means to be female. Then, when I was up one night, I got this idea--I saw these three women standing in washtubs," an image that takes Venus out of her shell and puts her in a far more prosaic place.
"I also wanted to do a takeoff on what Botticelli's model was like when she wasn't at work. What kind of person was she? And then, when I was awake one night at my mother's--I can never sleep there--I had this idea: what if Venus was interviewed? I thought of her relationship with Botticelli: Were they lovers? How was it working for him? I sat down that night and wrote the interview [which appeared as a voice-over in Venus Rogues] from start to stop.
"And then--more insomniac nights--I had a friend who was a chorus girl in Las Vegas, and she described how it was to wear those eight-foot-tall plumes. So there's a section where we strut, where we're kind of grotesques of feminine beauty."
Venus Rogues is now "Rogues," the first section of Venus Trilogy, representing the "carefree, unattached" life of a young woman, says Osgood. The second section, "Mother (Lust for Sleep)," was inspired by Osgood's experience caring for her twin sons, now three, when they were babies. The last section, "And Child (A Fire to Be Lit)," draws on a memorable trip to Italy with her mother in 1984.
Osgood likes to use everyday movement in her dances. One of her sons had colic as a baby, so she was always searching for ways to hold him that would make him feel better. "A lot of the gestures in 'Mother' are different holdings of him--they're abstracted, and we move through them in a kinesthetic way, but it was 'How do I help him? What do I do?' We had cloth diapers--I was getting 200 diapers a week from the service, so I was diapering a lot--and I remember folding. It was almost origami, it had a ritual, and that's in there, too." Eventually she combined the holding and diapering gestures into one sequence.
Movement in the second section also stems from the maternal imperative to resist sleep. "It was just nonstop, around the clock," says Osgood. "You wanted to sink down, give in to weight, gravity, fatigue"--her head starts drooping--"but you couldn't, you had to come up," and her head snaps back erect. "There was another sound, you couldn't. You're not responsible for just yourself. I remember wanting to sleep, and it being almost painful not to."
Bartoszek is presenting Flight/Fight Dance, which first appeared as part of a performance piece she did with Patricia Pelletier in 1986, and Fever Tales, a new work. "The idea in Fever Tales," she says, "is how people are dependent when they're ill. Because of the costuming, there's a medical connotation. I have one person in striped pajamas and two in lab coats, with an undercostume that I think will be basic briefs and T-shirts--an Erick Hawkins look, underwear but not seductive, and bare legs." The three dancers switch costumes between the three different sections of the dance, the three "fever tales."
Changing clothes onstage unfortunately can have sexual connotations. "I'm trying to make it really not about women taking off their clothes," says Bartoszek. "It's more like a new role coming on." Then there are logistical problems. "It's harder to get the pajamas on and off than it is the lab coats. And if one leg is inside out or twisted, that can get real busy onstage, to have to pull them apart."
Bartoszek likes to layer movement from different sources in her choreography. For Fever Tales, she tried several techniques. "I decided I wanted to work with one person being real weighted and empty of energy, and the other people holding or forming her." She used a technique that Doug Varone had employed last fall during a choreographic workshop at the Dance Center--choosing key words and finding gestures to suit them. She also asked the dancers to make up phrases consisting of a slide, a turn, and a gesture. "Then we started playing with it spatially and adding little things, weaving them in. That's the fun part--juxtaposing two phrases or playing with other possibilities in the movement material you've gathered."
Bartoszek is working on a looser approach to composition, allowing more to happen in the studio instead of trying to work out her ideas in advance. "It's scary when you go into the studio and all these dancers are there and eager to do something, and you're not sure what you're doing." Osgood is also branching out: "I've never enjoyed dancing more, and I don't think I've ever been as articulate a dancer as I am now. I know it's because I love it so much and I can't have it all the time."
Osgood and Bartoszek will present "Two Women's Tales" March 14, 15, and 16 at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 4730 N. Sheridan, at 8 PM. Tickets are $8-$12; call 271-7928 for reservations.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander Newberry.