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Joanne Zimbler
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Modern/Contemporary
The Electric Lodge
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Audience offers feedback in preview of Rosanna Gamson's Layla Means Night

by Joanne Zimbler
January 12, 2013
The Electric Lodge
1416 Electric Avenue
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 306-1854
Marcel Duchamp claimed that the spectator of art was, through the process of viewing and interpreting, bringing meaning (often new meaning) to the work. Duchamp would certainly have respected the artistic integrity of Rosanna Gamson's audience on Saturday in her preview of the work entitled Layla Means Night as the audience transcended even the role of spectator and was invited to offer insights and recommendations as Gamson solicited our feedback. The intelligent enthusiastic audience were very much engaged and offered their thoughtful suggestions to the choreographer. The interactive approach of the nascent work no doubt foreshadows the full length performance, debuting in October, which promises to be an interactive night of sensual delights steeped in Islamic philosophy and aesthetics.

Through "a set made of tents, moving curtains, and sliding screens that divide the space into shifting rooms" and an audience divided by gender, Gamson aspires to explore the nature of perception and reality as the men and women in the room view the same dance however within different contexts and with the same choreography but with variant sequencing and combinations of dancers, reflecting the nature of Gamson's latest interest - quasicrystaline design. Quasicrystal patterns in ancient Islamic art recreated the geometric patterns of quasicrystals found in nature, which unlike pure crystals, are not characterized by translational symmetry and "in two dimensions this means that sliding an exact copy of the pattern over itself will never produce and exact match, though rotating the copy will often produce a match". Although ostensibly lacking symmetry, the crystals are mathematically the same, and ancient Islamic art, as has recently been discovered, produced the same patterns as these complex crystals, just as Gamson's dancers will in Layla Means Night - as her dancers seem to move differently for different audiences while essentially moving in the same fundamental ways. Gamson showcased a few iterations of this theme with dancers swirling about in movements that seemed to be repeating but were not, and were in fact different, in a sort of inverse interpretation of the quasicrystals and like the quasicrystals, in pieces that were sequentially different but in fact looked the same.

Structurally, the quasicrystal dynamic holds together the story of the king's dead wives in the tale of Scheherezade. Ignored in the tale, are the stories of the virgin brides who were killed before Scheherezade finally tempered the dreaded king. Gamson's dancers, although likely costumed with bloody necks (the kings brides had their heads chopped off) reveal their grief after death not as horrifying ghosts, but rather as sympathetic victims. The dancers in the preview moved in unison but slightly differently. As a monolithic group they'd lose all individuality. To have them move in unison in seemingly similar ways but slightly differently, restores the individuality which the story deprives them of, and reinforces the quasicrystal theme and again testifies that patterns in nature organically repeat.

Seemingly, there is no stability in meaning, as stories may be interpreted differently depending on one's physical point of view, and as one's gender may even influence interpretation. Gamson's experiment with audience separation will certainly bear this out. But the seemingly disparate structures within quasicrystals however indicate a mathematical reality that brings coherence to what seems to be chaos and even objectivity to what seems subjective. In Gamson's work, form follows function and an intricate relationship between story and movement seem to be the basis, if not thesis, of this incipient piece. The juxtaposition of these cerebral concepts with the luxuriant limbs of Gamson's talented dancers and the lushness of the mise en scene will surely stimulate and surprise. Given all this time, one wonders what else Gamson's fascinating mind may devise between now and the premier of the full length performance. We're just glad that before what will inevitably be a long wait, we were able to participate, however slightly, in the creation of what is destined to be an exciting and unique performance.

Layla Means Night will run from October 30 - November 3, 2013 with two shows per night at the ODC Theater at 3153 17th Street San Francisco, CA 94100. Tickets may be purchased (when available) at www.odcdance.org
Rosanna Gamson

Rosanna Gamson

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