The 2013 ODC Theater season began with storytelling and this week with Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, the third presented company, it’s clear how many of those stories are women’s stories. Female heroines and protagonists of strength, action and criticality have been represented from Sheetal Gandhi’s potent expression of a convicted woman navigating cultural norms and roles in Bahu-Beti-Biwi (Daughter-in-law, Daughter, Wife), to Barak Marshall’s no-nonsense, rather violent female bride in And at midnight the green bride floated through the village square. Rosanna Gamson’s Layla Means Night offers another shade of femininity and power employing the narrative of Scheherazade – a story about storytelling.
The tale goes that every day the king would marry a new virgin, and every day he would send yesterday’s wife to be beheaded. He was angry and brutal, having found out that his first wife was unfaithful to him. The king had killed 1,000 such women by the time he was introduced to Scheherazade. When she volunteered to spend one night with him, she told a story stopping in the middle as day was breaking. The king spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. The next night, Scheherazade finished the story, and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through, at dawn. In this manner, the king kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he anticipated the finishing of last night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, Scheherazade’s stories had appealed to the king’s humanity and he fell in love with her, thus sparing her life and making her his queen.
In Layla Means Night, Gamson choreographs the audience so that time goes backward and forward with different groups witnessing various nights. In Gamson’s eyes, the ancient story of Scheherazade is also about today’s complicity of women. Think about the many women trying not to age with wrinkle creams and liposuction, holding up teenage girls as paramounts of beauty. With this work, we experience masculine and feminine elements through the lens of a complex choreographer whose mother performed the earthy solos of Isadora Duncan and whose early influences included the macho theater world of Robert Wilson and the rigorous school of Alwin Nikolai and Louis Murray.
From sports to dance, Gamson loves the body as a spectator sport and the role of witnessing is key for Layla Means Night to build empathy for the characters, particularly the women. When a performer is fully absorbed they let the spectator enjoy a kinesthetic mirror, an embodied empathy. Sharing the choreography of Layla, Gamson asks, “If you could be inside the women’s body in a heroic way would something change? Rather than admire, judge or dislike, what would you feel?”
ODC Presents Rosanna Gamson/World Wide’s Layla Means Night October 30 -November 3 at the ODC Theater.