Visual splendor is a familiar and welcome component of the pieces created by Rosanna Gamson for her nine-dancer ensemble. Few Los Angeles choreographers use theater technology quite so distinctively to fuel a contemporary vision.
At REDCAT on Thursday, the opening of a three-performance engagement, the imaginative scenic and lighting contexts made two new Gamson works look varied and meaningful even when the movement itself remained scattershot or mundane. In "Restless," mobile translucent curtains designed by Gamson and Tony Shayne reinforced the theme of isolation: people locked into the same patterns of motion but alone — near to one another but spatially disconnected.
The piece began with a chain of solos, each overwrought and each abruptly stopped when another dancer grabbed and subdued the soloist. Afterward a series of vignettes provided sudden glimpses — violent fighting, relationships forming and dissolving, a group frieze — that were just as suddenly curtained off.
Midway through, the curtains were yanked apart to suggest rooms and corridors while Shayne's lighting resourcefully enhanced the bleakness of Gamson's vision. "Restless" ended with attempts at personal contact — attempts rebuffed but persistent nonetheless.
Michael Webster's soundscore reinforced the discontinuity with its collage of machine noise and patches of familiar music. But sometimes the power of the sampled excerpts — an intense tango, for instance — made the choreography look bloodless or tone-deaf despite the energy and skill of the dancers.
"Still" proved no less restless than "Restless," but here the wildly overwrought solos were subdued or absorbed by groups, not individuals, and a sense of community replaced the previous work's depiction of isolation. What's more, the stage looked entirely different. A bright open space often was decorated with Shayne's colorful floor projections and dominated by a large 3-D gauze room designed by Carlo Bryan Maghirang hanging overhead. If the black curtains gave "Restless" a horizontal trajectory, the white gauze sculpture created a vertical axis. Emphasizing the contrast: a repetition of Gamson's people-tower from the first piece, taking dancers to the bottom edge of the gauze room.
Unfortunately, the choreography didn't heat up even when Shayne made the stage look red-hot, but the surreal setting did help renew movement ideas continually in danger of growing stale. And whether they were improvising or executing finished choreography, the dancers of Rosanna Gamson/World Wide stayed faultless. Some excelled at neo-balletic stretches and extensions, others at quasi-gymnastic torso action and Gamson highlighted their capabilities in solos throughout the evening.
As in "Restless," the costumes by Yonit Olshan served the sense of a dancer-family without cookie-cutter sameness. Webster's score sounded more aggressive this time, especially at the end. But "Still" finished with a kind of passive lineup, as if the dancers were at rehearsal waiting for Gamson's notes. So the antique blare that Webster provided did pump energy into the final moments.
You could wish that Gamson had more interest in movement invention and developing her ideas, but you also could wish that many Southern California choreographers had half her knack for stagecraft, for making dance-spaces deeply luminous before anyone actually moves in them.
Rosanna Gamson/World Wide's 'Still/Restless'
Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Info: (213) 237-2800 or visit www.redcat.org