Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Clap Your Hands. Clap Your Hands.

March 20, 2010

Dancers in Rosanna Gamson/World Wide's Tov
Photo: RG/WW/REDCAT 2010

You can’t go home again. This is true both emotionally and, as it turns out, genetically. At least that’s one of the many points made in a hugely ambitious new work from Rosanna Gamson and her varied troupe of collaborators who operate under the moniker of World Wide. The roughly 90-minute dance work is called Tov which means good and is a reduction of the expression “Gamzu l’tovah” meaning, “This too, is for the good.” The piece concerns 1930s experiments to recreate an extinct breed of horse, the tarpan, through selectively breeding for their traits among a group of latter day animals. It didn’t pan out, and we know now that though specific genes may live on in other races after an extinction event, once you’re gone, you’re gone. The tarpan story is used as a springboard to reflect on the fate of Gamson’s specific Polish horse-trader ancestors, and more broadly that of Polish Jewry in the 20th century, though Tov does so in an admittedly oblique fashion.

There is a lot going on here. In addition to the dance, there are vocal performances, spoken dialogue, and theatrical activities of all stripes in between with requisite pre-recorded music. The audience was arranged in a hallway pattern on either side of the performance area where an unusually large amount of stuff was falling from above. There was a “snow” station in one corner and a “salt” station in another. In fact, salt plays prominently in the work. And trust me when it rains, it pours. Virtually everyone in the cast gets their shot to poor salt out of any number of black boxes all over the floor at one time or another in the evening, outlining bodies or the borders around the audience. In a climactic sequence, all these pretty patterns are disrupted in a solo dance by one of the troupe’s members. In addition to the narration, there are mini-scenes in both Polish and English and even a large riser on wheels that supports a candle-laden table and four chairs that is periodically lugged around the performance space.

Tov has a lot on its mind, and while these are all great ideas, the sheer amount of stuff going on here can be a bit much to sort out. The actual dancing in the piece is great. The diverse troupe gets all the performers involved regardless of body type. Even tenor Timur Bekbosunov gets into the act, crawling around on hands and knees when it’s called for. But with the amount of narration, singing, and other activity going on, it was hard to avoid a sort of stop-and-start feeling to the work. At time the points being made seemed too oblique, and at others I wished the performers would just stop talking. There is plenty of beauty, but there’s a lot of salt to be poured as well to get to it. Still, I’d rather have the ambition than not, and, while Tov didn’t work for me as a cohesive whole, it wasn’t dull and isn’t just more of the same. The performance runs at REDCAT through next Saturday, March 27th.


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