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Rosanne Gamson began working on her powerful new work STILL/RESTLESS two years ago. She was investigating the link “between improvisation and dreaming” but the deaths of two close friends lead her down a slightly different path. Some of the images Rosanna Gamson conjures up in the beginning of the first act suggest moths drawn to a flame, a person unable to stop themselves from total destruction or a friend trying to save another from torment only to find themselves going down that same path.

Rosanna Gamson/ World Wide: Still/Restless - Photo by Steve Gunther
Rosanna Gamson/ World Wide: Still/Restless – Photo by Steve Gunther

The word restless is defined as unable to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom, or offering no physical or emotional rest; involving constant activity or motion. Depending on its usage, still has many meanings. The noun: not moving or making a sound; deep silence and calm. The adverb: up to and including the present, the time mentioned, or nevertheless; all the same. And the verb: make or become still; quieten. Through her movement, Gamson visualizes, examines and rips open all of these meanings in this truly inspiring work.

STILL/RESTLESS is built in two acts. For RESTLESS Gamson makes use of three sectional curtains that divide up the space in multiple ways. The performance area becomes limited to a narrow downstage corridor for a duet and then with the aid of Tony Shayne’s lighting the curtains it is opened up and divided into rooms. It is in these rooms where glimpses into private lives, intimate relationships or troubling dreams take place. Then suddenly, with one single dramatic jerk by a dancer, the curtains suddenly become cloth pillars for the performers to take shelter behind or move in and out of other people’s realities. There is one section where Lavinia Findikoglu dances on a narrow walkway high above the stage; looking down on what is taking place as everyone has experienced during their dreams. The set, designed by Rosanna Gamson and Tony Shayne, is so simple yet it allows for an endless variety of environments and/or compartments to appear. Three rows of thin black curtains help re-shape, hide and radically alter the space.

Rosanna Gamson World/Wide: Still/Restless - Photo by Steve Gunther
Rosanna Gamson World/Wide: Still/Restless – Photo by Steve Gunther

The choreography in RESTLESS is exactly that; constantly moving and always changing. It is tender, sensual, angry, and occasionally it verges on becoming violent. Gamson manages with a pure movement dance form to bring about many layers of emotions by how she increases or decreases its intensity. Making all this possible, of course, is the talent of the fearless company members. The closing of RESTLESS seemed unfinished, however. Perhaps it was an early light cue that didn’t allow the final image to register. It was unclear if the first half was over.

Events take a radical turn with STILL. The stage floor changes from black to white. The curtains are gone and replaced with a ghostly white room or house hanging overhead. It is a beautiful idea created by Set Designer Carlo Bryan Maghirang. This fragile structure gives the illusion of home. It defines the space without obstructing or restricting any onstage action. But Gamson doesn’t ignore it. The dancers make longing gestures toward it and a few are lifted up to briefly enter inside.

Joseph Badalamenti and Megan McCarthy in Still/Restless - Photo by Steve Gunther
Joseph Badalamenti and Megan McCarthy in Still/Restless – Photo by Steve Gunther

STILL begins with a quiet solo by the brilliant Joseph Badalamenti. He peacefully looks out toward the audience. His movements are calm and controlled and there is a wonderful moment when he begins to turn away, but quickly looks back like he’s expecting to see someone standing there. A lone dancer, Kayla Johnson, lies on the floor and remains unmoving for a very long time. They are soon joined by the phantom like appearance of Megan McCarthy whose stage presence is captivating. The theater vibrates and the air thickens with Badalamenti and McCarthy onstage together but separate. Another dancer who stands out in STILL is quiet Kearian Giertz. He doesn’t draw ones eye like the other two, but his dancing is free of restraint and wonderful.

Another element of the set for STILL is Shayne’s use of light projections. The performance space becomes textured then defined by a large orange rectangle. Later, yellow circles stand out harshly against the pale gauze home still hovering above. Gamson’s choreography becomes open, generous and quiet, but accented with occasional references to the anger in RESTLESS. The orange rectangle works as an arena for various situations. People are drawn to it, rescued from it and their personalities are definitely affected by its existence. The yellow circles become places for quiet combat, intimate interactions and inner-reflections.

Still/Restless - Photo by Steve Gunther
Still/Restless – Photo by Steve Gunther

As strong as the dancers in Gamson’s company are, STILL brings out one of their weaknesses; acting. The majority of them have not invested in that part of their performance training. Some smiles appear forced and the anger sometimes comes across as emoting. This doesn’t subtract from Gamson’s choreography, but it tends to diminish the dancers’ effectiveness.

Costume Designer Yonit Olshan’s work is strong but inconsistent. The majority of the costumes are beautiful and fit the work. Others miss the mark by a lot, as in Jun Hong Cho’s orange pants that clash badly with Megan McCarty’s beautiful ochre dress, or Kayla Johnson’s very busy purple dress that prevents us from seeing the movement. Michael Webster’s score is truly powerful for STILL, but in RESTLESS it moves in and out of one’s awareness.

Still/Restless - Photo by Steve Gunther
Still/Restless – Photo by Steve Gunther

Gamson has created a strong and important work with STILL/RESTLESS. She has also created one of the strongest endings that I have seen in quite some time. The image of each person settling into a standing pose, all facing in the same direction is very poignant. We are left with hope, strength and a resolve to reside here still.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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