Dance review: Rosanna Gamson’s ‘Tov’ at REDCAT

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“Tov,” Rosanna Gamson’s full-evening dance-theater production named for the simple Hebrew word for “good,” exuded the powerful feeling that an artist had kicked up her game. A confident choreographer deploying a full theatrical toolbox of movement, music, words and props for eight performances in REDCAT’s black box theater had arrived. Taking aim at a horse story, she got good results.

Four years in the making, and emerging from Gamson’s apprenticeship in Polish interdisciplinary theater, “Tov,” explores themes of survival relative to German genetic experimentation to revive an extinct breed of horses as “Aryans.” Gamson’s touchstone is the knowledge that her family forebears were Polish horse traders. CHOREA theater of Lodz, Poland, lends three performers to the show, as well as composer Tomasz Krzyzanowski, who contributed the melancholy sound score.

REDCAT’s prosaic stadium-seating arrangement, reconfigured into a dark, subterranean football field with viewing at stage level, proved a world-class vessel for Gamson’s shtetl imaginings. ‘Tov’ opened Thursday and continues through Saturday. [Correction: A previous version of this post said performances continued through Sunday.]

“Tov” began with a choir of female dancers clad in simple house frocks and bare legs singing tightly textured Bulgarian folk songs. At the far end of the 56-foot-long space, dancers twisted under a sprinkling of snowflakes evoking wintry Poland. Barnyard sounds – tweets, snorts and neighs – tickled our ears. The choreographer’s fresh movement invention included an athletic yet mysterious balance, with a fully extended body hovering close to the floor. Rachel Butler-Green gave Gamson’s leggy lunges and arrow arms clear reading.


Gamson led her audience on an absorbing ride; similarly, her dancers wheeled around a platform on which a family, seated around a dining table, chanted Jewish blessings. Sabbath candles glowed and peasant music droned as they dragged it through the immense space. On a more conceptual plane, the troupe poured gobs of kosher salt onto the floor, the dried remains of fallen tears and as koshering agent, a powerful commodity in Jewish culture. White salt circumscribed dead bodies, and it hemmed in the audience, outlining footprints where we sat. As salt-stench permeated the air, it irritated our eyes. We could feel the burn.

“Tov” had weaknesses. Along with vibrant group choreography (fewer dancers would improve it) came clichés of craziness: gyrating head, palpitating body, hurling of selves to the ground. A disappointing denouement to the otherwise coherent pageant had Alexandria Yalj, attired in red skivvy perhaps to represent a broken, bleeding horse, thrashing on the salt-laden floor. But “Tov’s” beauties prevailed: Michael Gomez flitted like a caged bird to a taped conversation between an old man and a child.

Beyond its ambitious globalism, “Tov” was recognizably made in Los Angeles. It carried the local mellowness of spirit and pacing. It offered solace in L.A.-style multiculturalism. Astonishingly, for a piece evoking the Holocaust, it was kind-spirited. Indeed, “Tov” was good. So, mazel tov!

-- Debra Levine

‘Tov,’ REDCAT, 8:30 p.m. Wed-Sat. $20 and $25. [Correction, a previous version of this post said that performances continues through Sunday and that tickets were priced $10-$12.]


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In ‘Tov,’ Rosanna Gamson ponders her family history -- and more