Lovesickness, the dance theater piece by Rosanna Gamson with original music by Shane W. Cadman, follows 1998's critically acclaimed Grand Hope Flower, for which both Gamson and Cadman won Lester Horton Awards.
In two discreet acts, both parts of Lovesickness stand as complete works. The acts relate to each other structurally and thematically, but not as a literal narrative. Inspired by the parallel beginnings of psychoanalysis and cinema; the Ramayana; and the history of blood and transfusion (and the diseases of blood and transfusion); each act deals with a different aspect of health and dis-ease, union, separation, and longing. Lovesickness is portrayed as the soul/mind/body divided from, or divided against, itself.
Lovesickness features Cadman's score for The Illustrious Theatre Orchestra (violin, 'cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, and percussion) and voices, and projections by Jeff Cain and David Irete. With performers Cesar Cazares, Vera Flores Celaya, Gabriela Cerda, Jay Choi, Richard Ferguson, Lilia Lopez, Paul Outlaw, Deborah Rosen, John Scott, Johnny Tu, Melody Versoza (soprano) and Dana Wieluns.
The creation of Lovesickness was made possible, in part, by
support from The Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
With her new work called "Lovesickness," which opened Thursday night, Rosanna Gamson creates a neat little valentine to desire--to constantly thwarted desire, actually, but the piece is so inventive and rhapsodic, it makes inevitable the idea that love and lack of it are constant, intimate companions.
Gamson fills the small space at Highways in Santa Monica with constantly flowing events--dancing, songs, speech and projections. And like rapt passersby looking at a holiday-themed department store window, our eyes light upon scene after scene that enforce the mood--a phalanx of flamencos tapping out sad messages in rhythmic code; a man who breaks away into a restless flinging that lyrically resolves into thoughtful stillness (the amazingly sculptural Johnny Tu); sepia films of a woman putting on perfume; flickering street scenes projected on flimsy cloth held by a figure in white lace (liquid-voiced Melody Versoza, singing something between a lament and a love song).
Throughout, there is a woman telling stories (an appealing Dana Wieluns), mostly about her own desire and disappointments. Having trouble communicating with a German-speaking armchair analyzer, she's clearly one of Freud's "hysteria" cases, with a categorical diagnosis of sexual repression nipping at her heels. She also tells us about society's narratives--how in another age, she might have been thought of as possessed, or how she might have expected the gods to take care of her. But instead, there are theories of the psyche, chemical imbalances and endless longing.
Shane W. Cadman's score (performed by the Illustrious Theatre Orchestra) pulsates like troubling thoughts or a racing heart that won't fade after excitement. Descending melodies and klezmer-esque interludes weave in and out of scenes as definitively as the audience-encompassing diaphanous tent that Gamson uses to interestingly veil the second of two shortish acts. In the small corps of movers, there are skilled specialists (tango couple Cesar Cazares and Lilia Lopez; flamenco dancer Vera Flores Celaya and Tu), but there are also more "ordinary movers" who worked into this peculiar community well, whether it's breaking into a folk/disco version of a mating dance, various solo musings or sudden simultaneous explanations.
It's as if Gamson is showing us that everyone has a story. And as she says
through Wieluns' eventually resigned character: "I can only show you some
shadows and hope you can guess what I mean by them."
"That's a good question," choreographer Rosanna Gamson calls out from the bleachers. It's rehearsal time for her dance company, Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, and a dancer has questioned a gap in getting from one move to the next. Gamson tries to think of an answer, not for the first time. Sometimes she doesn't have one. Sometimes she says, "Well, we'll just have to work that one out."
Just a week before its unveiling, Gamson's "Lovesickness" is still a work in progress--a thousand details being confronted, changed or tabled during rehearsals. Gamson has promised a closing speech to narrator Dana Wieluns, a speech that she must somehow find time to write in the next few days. But Gamson, 40, doesn't seem fazed by all these loose ends. She's a veteran at connecting the dots. Three years ago, she arrived in Los Angeles, another artistic refugee from New York. This year, she won the local dance community's highest honor, the Lester Horton Award for outstanding achievement in choreography, for "Grand Hope Flower," a much-lauded free-associative inquiry into L.A.'s stardust appeal.
Dressed in black trousers and layers of T-shirts, Gamson is a tall woman with straight red hair; large, horn-rimmed glasses; and a breezy manner. Clearly, she revels in the ongoing dialogue of ideas expressed through dance and, fortunately, she also laughs a lot. At one point, standing among the dancers, she says, "You should all move forward with aplomb." The dancers stare at her. One jokes, "A plum?" Then Vera Flores Celaya strides forward from the pack, her back straight, her head high. This flamenco dancer is the one performer who has been with Gamson for all three of her L.A. productions; she knows what aplomb is. Gamson moved to Los Angeles in 1996 because her husband, a video editor, could find more work here. In New York, she had had a modest career, performing with a number of modern dance companies and, about once a year, presenting her own choreography.
At first she hated Los Angeles--the sprawl, the decentralization. To survive, she decided to start a dance project. Funding it herself, she rounded up performers--including six she knew from New York--and presented a new work, "Again Not Again," at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. She called around to invite arts movers and shakers in the city. To her surprise, people talked to her. "New York's very hierarchical, it's a ladder. It's all about where you are in the pecking order," Gamson observes. "Here it's just this sprawl where everything's mushing around, there's no one way to do anything. There's this huge opportunity."
"Again Not Again" turned out to be an effective calling card. The Times' dance critic Lewis Segal wrote, "For high ambition, deep intelligence and a spectacular sense of dance-theater metaphor, Rosanna Gamson's 'Again Not Again' sets an imposing standard for companies working in local studio spaces." Jordan Peimer, programming director of the Skirball Cultural Center, was deeply impressed. "It's so rare to see someone who carries through that strong vision throughout the work," he says. He helped arrange a commission for her to create an evening-length piece--which became "Grand Hope Flower" --for the opening of the Getty Center, in December 1997.
Gamson grew up in an artistic household. Her father was a musician; her mother, Annabelle Gamson, was a dancer and choreographer, known for her reconstructions of the works of Isadora Duncan. So dance was a natural choice. She began studying at 3 and went through a succession of schools and programs, including tutelage under Hanya Holm and Bessie Shonberg and at Sarah Lawrence, eventually culminating in a master of fine arts degree in dance at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 1987. But her childhood dream of renown as a choreographer and company director met a few glitches. "At 18 I dropped out of Sarah Lawrence to be a star," she admits ruefully. "And then I wasn't."
Los Angeles has proved a turnaround. Because of the arrival of Gamson's second child, "Grand Hope Flower's" premiere was pushed back a year; it was performed at the Getty in September 1998, then remounted at California Plaza's Watercourt in August. The work, named after three downtown streets, was Gamson's attempt to capture some of her feelings about her new hometown. On a grid drawn on the ground with tape, her performers spun through darkness, illuminated here and there by the on-off flickering of lamps. Meanwhile, they gave discourses on quantum electrodynamics, "Little Red Riding Hood" and the drawing power of L.A. She used the fairy tale, she explains, as a Hollywood-wannabe metaphor: "It's another story where you get lost in the woods and get seduced." Visually, she saw the city laid out like a grid of light, and that light again connected to film and filmmaking. "I feel like Los Angeles is the light capital of the world, this is the commodity here," she says. "We take light, and turn it into image." Admittedly, her works are complex, both in their staging and in tackling big ideas. "I'm really pro-intellectual!" she announces proudly. "I think you can present a complicated thought and the audience will be pleased. I think people see faster and simultaneously. I think they can see how 12 people on stage are moving differently but have the same intention." Love, Loneliness and Artistic Change
"Lovesickness" is another ambitious multimedia opus. It tackles the roots of mental illness, the nature of love and existential loneliness. "It's about how much we all want to be loved and how we can never be loved the way we want," Gamson says. One inspiration was a Freud case study about a governess who was prohibited from displaying affection toward her charges and became hysterical, developing an oversensitive nose. "I am being tormented by the smell of burning pastry!" she declares in Gamson's interpretation. These elements lead the choreographer to "Hansel and Gretel," and their ejection from home and close brush with the oven, so their story is woven into "Lovesickness."
Gamson culls her performers from many sources--the world of dance, of
course, but also music, acting, mime. And they not only move, they clap,
hiss, sing and speak. She is fearless about using every tool of stagecraft--
including video projection--in "Lovesickness."
During a 12-hour rehearsal marathon on Saturday, Gamson reports, those video
sequences are finally starting to gel. She has even completed the closing
speech, one that could stand for her own freewheeling creative process.
"Once I lost my way. No, more than once," it reads at one point, "but I
continue to change."
Desire, heartbreak and Freud's theory of hysteria share the stage with divine dancing in Rosanna Gamson/World Wide's "Lovesickness" at Sushi this weekend. This two-act, evening-length work is dance-theater at its best - a deft combination of text, original score and film, propelled by nearly nonstop dancing.
Gamson's choreography in Act I (which deals with hysteria) plays with the tension between control and abandon. The seven dancers enter in a phalanx and circle the stage with the driving heel beats and proud carriages of flamenco, that perfect embodiment of passion and containment.
Flamenco weaves throughout Act I, for instance when Johnny Tu (a dancer of extraordinary power and charisma) does a wild, limb-flinging solo and the other dancers, like a chorus, maintain the controlled flamenco beat. There are also aching tango duets by Lilia Lopez and Cesar Cázares and a delicious, recurring vocabulary of scooping and reaching arm movements.
And that's just the dance. In the midst of all this inventive movement, a delightfully pompous Paul Outlaw delivers excerpts from Freud - in German - his dignity punctured by a goofy mis-translator in a black slip-dress and red high heels. Dana Wieluns plays the translator with fey seriousness and charm, as well as the fresh-faced blond prettiness of Renee Zellweger.
At the same time, black-and-white movies with the grainy look of silent films are projected onto sheets hanging from clotheslines above the stage.
It's all held together by Shane Cadman's original score, a montage of flamenco, tango and, in the second act, driving, non-melodic music a la Philip Glass. Cadman's score has the great virtue of egolessness, seamlessly fitting the production rather than calling attention to itself; the occasional brilliant exceptions are several songs performed by Melody Versoza in a liquid, heart-wrenching soprano.
With such a dizzying array of elements, it's impossible to take everything in. It doesn't matter. The integrity of Gamson's vision and the impeccable focus of a dream cast give "Lovesickness" a visceral intelligence that soaks into one's skin. (The outstanding dancers also include Vera Flores Celaya, Erin Maxick, Edgar Ovando and Deborah Rosen.)
The magic falters a few times in Act II, when the text sometimes veers toward preachiness. But even when the text gets didactic, the dance delivers a more nuanced message. So does the evocative set - a filmy, transparent white "tent" that sometimes covers the stage, with the dancers performing beneath it and images (including exquisite swirls of Arabic text) projected on the side.
Less frenetic than Act I, this act has an Eastern flavor, with the dancers in white tunics and pants sometimes doing yoga lunges and balancing poses. The text ranges from alphabets to goddesses to the virus theory of disease. Gamson's choreography is often playful (in the serious way that children play), and there's an exuberant gestural vocabulary for each letter of the alphabet.
The end of "Lovesickness" feels inconclusive. But a powerful moment of completion occurs
before that. In the first act, Outlaw has spouted Freud's theories about women, quarreling
with Wieluns' translations. In Act II, Wieluns relates her personal experience of love, and
Outlaw (Freud) gives what sounds like a faithful German translation - the man who asked what
women want at last conceding a woman's ability to give meaning to her own life.