Because of the subject matter, with its allusions to genocide, Gamson feels the added pressure to succeed. "I don't think I'd feel entitled to the subject if my family wasn't involved in it," she said.
Raised as a secular Jew in New York and Italy, Gamson knew little of her family's history, aside from an ancestor, Nachum Ish Gamzu, a Jewish scholar from the 2nd century. After seeing the Song of the Goat production, she called her Polish father, started asking questions, and discovered her relatives had worked as horse traders in Szczecin, Poland, before either emigrating or perishing in the Holocaust. Gamson began researching the history of the tarpan horse and the efforts to bring it back from extinction in pre- World War II Germany.
Gamson, however, resolved to steer clear of overt references to the Holocaust, believing that any theatrical representation would "trivialize it, as it would any genocide." She also doesn't consider the production to be a Jewish work.
"Jews might see it as a Jewish piece, but it never mentions the Jews, the Nazis, or even God. It is the story of my family, but that just sets up a context to explore, 'What are the stories we keep telling and in the end, what is it that we pass on?' " she said.
For that reason, Gamson cast Paul Outlaw, an African American actor, as the narrator. "Her text has enough ambiguity in it, where I can think it's talking about me," Outlaw says.
He has collaborated with Gamson since 2000. "Tov" is one of her strongest pieces, he says, "though I'm biased. Rosanna gets bored easily, which is what informs a lot of her work. She always had to have a million things happening at the same time. But I think over the years she's learned to pare things, and 'Tov' has a lot of stillness in it."
It seems that Gamson has learned some lessons from recent works such as the 2004 "Aura," for which she co-collaborated with the Mexican choreographer Cecilia Appleton, and her technology-heavy 2007 "Ravish," based on the lives of the Brontë sisters and which featured video projections and an interactive floor.
In the case of "Tov," she has tried hard not to allow her co-collaborators and technical elements to overshadow her artistic intentions and goals.
"I really got my way with this piece, and I've worked really hard to think everything through, down to each piece of clothing the performers wear," she said.
If anything, Gamson hopes that audiences will understand that she's created a work about resilience. "Ultimately, we go on, one generation to the next," she said. "That's why my daughter Delilah is in the piece. I think it's the best thing I can say, that we continue."
In 'Tov,' Rosanna Gamson ponders her family history -- and more
Poland, horses and the Holocaust hover in the ether of the Los Angeles choreographer's multinational new work, at REDCAT.
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