Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Branwell's spinouts, drops and rolls

Voice of Dance reviews Rosanna Gamson's Ravish, but some of the background information needs to be corrected.

The final installment, OFF BOOK: Stories That Move, represented a collaboration with Litquake. So, it seemed logical to turn over the lion’s share of the weekend to a dance work inspired (but not dominated) by the written word. That would be Rosanna Gamson’s Ravish, a curiously moving and luxuriantly produced meditation on the Brontë clan. True, Martha Graham treated the subject in Deaths and Entrances back in the 1940s, but Gamson, a Los Angeles resident, who made her Bay Area debut on Friday (Oct. 10), attempts something less cosmic and more intimate. By and large, she succeeds in evoking a household, so far from the literary mainstream that it forces itself to remake the rules on artistic creation.
How the Brontë siblings built their own universe in the cloistered environs of Haworth Parsonage in the early decades of the 19th century is a matter of much speculation and I must roundly chastise Bailis and his team for not supplying even an iota of background matter for this dance in his handout material. He should know that is not how you draw audiences to dance or make them sit through it, either. (Allan Ulrich)
The environs of Haworth - or the Brontës' lives - were not so cloistered, actually.
In any case, history records that there were five Brontë sisters, only four of whom survived into maturity, and they are represented here, along with brother Branwell, at best a person in a fragile psychological state. (Allan Ulrich)
Alright, that IS confusing. It's true there were five Brontë sisters, but only four SIBLINGS (three sisters and one brother) survived into maturity.
It is hard to tell the extent to which Gamson drew on the historical record for her 55-minute opus or how much she has opted for speculation and metaphor. Certainly, Branwell’s frequent spinouts, drops and rolls do not suggest mental health, and Michael Gomez’s volatile performance in a shirt that seems to be crumbling from the dancer’s body only fortifies the impression. Best not to think Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester. That way lies a literary fallacy, and Gamson refrains from assigning the women distinct characterizations.
What you notice first is the family’s fragmentation. Two of the women hover on the periphery, whispering. Another dons pointe shoes and tries them out. Branwell exults in his instability. Not till half way through do these siblings join hands (in an unstable circle, need I add), and the moment seems like an epiphany. Later, all the women switch to pointe shoes; I guess the source of literary creation is mysterious and unfathomable, but you do get the idea that we carve our careers from what we experience in our environment.
The idea isn’t profound, but Gamson’s dancemaking skill is rich and varied. Her phrasing, extended and voluptuous, or short and pugnacious, never fails to support a mood. The dancers are a splendidly attuned lot. The women were Sarah Goodrich, Li-Ann Lim, Lilia Lopez and a fireball named Carin Noland, who corkscrewed across the space with startling abandon.
Ravish has been sumptuously mounted. Texts are projected on the rear wall, and Barnaby Levy has devised a series of ingenious projections for the floor. One of them shows us a dinner table, two place settings, two bowls of soup and two pair of hands consuming it. Bailis has compiled a deft sound score comprised of music that was popular during the Brontës’ heyday, like Beethoven’s “Moonight” Sonata (to accompany the soupy visuals), Schumann’s Piano Concerto and some lugubrious parlor songs. In a modern dance scene notable for neglecting the imperatives of theater, it’s odd and refreshing to encounter in Ravish a work that’s almost overproduced. (Allan Ulrich)
On a sad note, The Times publishes an obituary of actor Peter Copley. He made a Brontë connection in his acting career when he played John in Jane Eyre 1970.

The Brontë Parsonage Blog comments on the official Brontë Parsonage Museum website down time:
The Parsonage website is down at the moment due to a problem with the provider. We are making every effort to put it back up - so apologies! It should be available very soon. (Jenna Holmes)
EDIT: The website seems to be up and working now.

Also on the blogosphere, Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover posts about Classical Comics' Jane Eyre. The Lilac Pond Occasional reviews Jane Eyre 2006. And - a rare sighting - Lactating Bookworm discusses Anna L'estrange's Wuthering Heights sequel: Return to Wuthering Heights.

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Comments :

2 comments to “ Branwell's spinouts, drops and rolls ”
Anonymous said...
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I don't think the choreographer intended to literally portray the members of the family in this work. It's weird to think of "Dancing Branwell" etc. Fiction is fictional.

M. said...
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As we have not seen the production, we're afraid we cannot give a qualified opinion. We just report the opinions of different media reviewers.

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