Rosanna Gamson is the Artist Director of Rosanna Gamson/World Wide and faculty member at the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts. On Sunday, January 13, 2019, she presented a showing of her work-in-progress SUGAR HOUSES at REDCAT featuring seven performers. Gamson has taken the German fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812, and begun to braid it together with songs and narratives from the Revolutionary War era. On her website, Gamson says of her work: “I make evening-length dance theater pieces that braid together several tracks of information– often via text, music, and technology as well as movement.”

During the Revolutionary War, there were prisons operated by British forces during their occupation of New York City. Of the more than 2,600 prisoners of war that were captured during the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776, approximately 1,900 would later die from starvation. The prisons came to be called Sugar Houses because the warehouses that were used to imprison the American soldiers had previously been storage facilities for imported sugar and molasses. Narrator, Paul Outlaw, gave a brutal description of the conditions of the prisons, stating that approximately 17,500 prisoners perished in the so-called sugar houses over the span of the war.

For this showing, Gamson used two rows of small white spot lights that could light the entire performance area but also be held by performers to focus in on a specific area in an otherwise darkened stage. Performers used red and green masking tape to block off squares and rectangles that defined certain areas, like the one used to represent the cage inside the witch’s candy-covered house where Hansel was imprisoned.

I had previously seen an earlier version of SUGAR HOUSES, and it is always thought-provoking to observe how an artist/choreographer develops her/his work. Some sections were the same but possibly repositioned, expanded and/or condensed. Songs and narration had been added and the performers were continuing to develop and grow inside their characters.

Paul Outlaw in Sugar Houses Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses 7 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses2 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses3 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses5 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses6 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses8 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses9 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses10 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses1 Photo Will Haraldson Sugar Houses11 Photo Will Haraldson SUGAR HOUSES by Rosanna Gamson Sugar Houses14 Photo Will Haraldson
Paul Outlaw - SUGAR HOUSES by Rosanna Gamson - Photo: Will Haraldson

Gamson has combined time periods and countries and used different metaphors to poke fun at or highlight the less attractive attributes of certain cultures and generations. One such spoof was the satirical monologue performed by Clementine Gamson Levy that evoked the so-called millennials. Levy veered away from the story’s dialogue to place the focus totally on her and question her relationship to the tale and her colleagues.

The music score was composed live by Simon Greenberg. “Nothing is pre-recorded, he’s catching sounds and layering and filtering them as the other performers make them, so it’s a different kind of composing”.  Gamson said in an email to me.

Most of the sections worked, but a few times I had trouble following the storyline or connecting the dance movement to a perceived situation.  Other times I was wonderfully engaged. This was, after all, the showing of a work-in-progress and having seen Gamson’s work over the years, I know that when SUGAR HOUSES finally reaches the stage with its full production elements, all the loose ends will come together to create a well-told narrative.

The cast included Mallory Fabian, Clementine Gamson Levy, Kearian Giertz, Simon Greenberg, Kayla Johnson, Paul Outlaw, Kevin Zambrano, with vocal coaching and song arrangements by Fahad Siadat.

For more information on Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, click here.

Featured image: SUGAR HOUSES – Photo: Will Haraldson