Rosanna Gamson Conveys Architectural Dreamworld at REDCAT
REDCAT’s 270-seat theater was an apt setting for independent choreographer and CalArts professor Rosanna Gamson/World Wide’s intimate STILL/RESTLESS, which she teased out into two separate sections, “Restless” followed by “Still.” A viewer could be tricked, given the intermission, costume and scenic changes, and slight differences in cast, into thinking these were two separate works, but a study of the program notes and a second thought about the show’s title corrected us: this was one long, linked idea. Two ends of a single spectrum.
Light and dark were recurring ideas, and you could say that “Restless” was weighted towards dark while “Still” beamed with light. But elements of both could be found in each, much as stillness was present in “Restless” and vice versa. In “Restless”–the darker of the two–small lights, like drum-shaped bowls that shone upwards when switched on, were placed on the floor, showing faces that glowed ominously in the dark, or, alternately, seemed to direct dancers’ accelerating phrases of movement. Later, rows of scrim-like dark curtains separated the stage into horizontal thirds, obscuring our vision of the dancers. At times, light shone through them, illuminating a blur of bodies; otherwise, the fabric had to be manipulated by the dancers to create rectangular openings that would then suddenly fill with light, revealing another dancer or dancers in place. These ranged from solos to duets to group interactions, wherein the duets were homosexual more often than they were heterosexual.
All of this was quite simple–curtains, light, bodies–but it betrayed a certain mathematical complexity in terms of the process that might have been required to reach the timed shifts of light and balance of the openings’ spacing and varying depths. Recalling a note in the program that expressed initially seeking a “possible link between improvisation and dreaming,” the architectural mélange of choreography and scenic design, with a mixed score by Michael Webster that included carnival-cabaret instrumentals and intermittent opera, reminded me of a red-light district with its alleyways, doorways, and secret rooms–no doubt a place to which a dreamer might wander. Later, as the lights came up so high as to show us an almost studio-like view, the curtains were bunched into small staggered sections that opened the space but created blind spots, from which dancers burst onto the stage, joining in unison by twos. The drum-like lamps returned at the end of “Restless”–after this sweeping movement section–in keeping with a satisfying, if predictable, format of dance/music composition known as ternary form (A-B-A).
Throughout, the lighting design by Tony Shayne contributed a graphic design element that would be difficult to separate from the choreography. In “Restless,” it created those stark separations of light and dark, like three-dimensional windows into other worlds that were also articulated by the opening and closing of the curtains. And in “Still,” the lighting design navigated the spectrum of color, painting dizzying patterns of red along the periphery of the stage and bold circles and graphic white squares that were both acknowledged and occupied by the dancers, who stood along their outer edges or fed us phrasework from their centers.
And the use of light–not just design, but thematically speaking–in “Still” was especially well-developed. Entering the theater after intermission, we were confronted by a white marley floor that had been black before, and a huge white mesh fabric house floated luminously over the stage. It hovered high, higher than any of the dancers heads’ or arms (until, inevitably, they were lifted by each other, reaching up into its womb-like center), and I remembered that this upper space had been explored previously, when a single dancer had traversed, in slow adagio, across what seemed to be a second story upstage in “Restless.” Yonit Olshan’s costumes, which had been neutral-dark tops and shorts and mostly uniform before the intermission, were lighter and more colorful now: flowy skirts or shirts, deep yellows, purples, and blues, a tie-dye pattern or two.
Each half shared details that, more so than Gamson’s occasionally tepid movement vocabulary, have stayed with me since: quick kisses on the cheek and slow, sustained embraces, moments that were dedicated to intimacy and care for another person and nothing else. In “Restless,” Gamson used her concept of “still” as a verb: dancers repeated accelerating patterns of stationary, mostly full-body phrasework, until another person came over and stopped them by throwing or wrapping their arms around the body in motion and hanging on until it quieted. In “Still,” a tussle on the floor reconnected to this idea with two entangled thrashing bodies struggling together, until, finally, they found stillness. Still more details: brief smiles that passed over the dancers’ lips and eyes, especially as they furtively, yet not unintentionally, shared glances as they walked or danced together. Earnest, searching looks into the audience–for generous lengths of time–told us we were not separate from this work. If in words these moments strike you as cliché, then that’s my fault, because I can’t recreate here the honest presence demonstrated by the dancers.
These dancers, many of whom passed through Gamson’s care at the California Institute of the Arts, proved fully capable of her deliberate, technique-based aesthetic. Jun Hong Cho stood out for his virtuosic dancing that could as easily slip into an embrace or something as simple as standing, authentic and unaffected. I was as captivated by the unencumbered facility and open presence of Oregon native Megan McCarthy. Finally, Kayla Johnson, whose role in “Still” was to be the only unmoving dancer for the first several minutes, represented, for me, the proverbial Chekhov’s pistol, for when she was finally fired, she moved with a bullet’s precision and strength.
The ending drew the entire group onstage, where they were individually lit by circles of red. As the title might have predicted, all but one remained still.