Marjorie Gamso (1944–2011)

January 12, 2012



Choreographer Marjorie Gamso’s dances were characterized by their delicate physicality and conceptual rigor. They were suffused with her wild imagination, outstanding intellect, and artistic toughness. Her pieces were profoundly and idiosyncratically experimental, linking choreography and dance to visual art, literature, music, and philosophy, all areas she kept abreast of assiduously.

Gamso, born and raised in New York City, graduated from Hunter High School and Columbia University (1968). In Southern California (1968–1971), she studied ballet with Carmelita Maracci, performed with Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer, and presented her first work, Octopus City. Back in NYC, she studied with James Waring and Merce Cunningham, who both strongly influenced her work. In 1973 she founded her dance company, The Energy Crisis, which she maintained through the 1980s. In the early 1980s, with Jane Comfort and Tim Miller, she co-founded a series of groundbreaking events at P.S. 1 in Queens (now MOMA, P.S. 1) including ParaNarrative Dance, featuring dance and performance artists working with deconstructed narratives.

Gamso made dances for many performers and large spaces, such as Gestures in Ambush (1977) at the Cunningham Studio, The Hour of the Horizon (1985) at Larry Richardson’s Dance Gallery, and Her 1001 Nights (1988) at Marymount Manhattan College. She also made solo works, such as her 1990s Enlightenment series, each for a dancer and a historical instrument of illumination, and her 2009 Life in Storage, which she performed for individual viewers at a public storage facility. These dances suggested fractured narratives, their intimations of story and memory framing the multiple permutations of nuanced, subtle, cryptic gestures—dancers fluttered their fingers and brushed them across their eyes, shifted their gazes from a knee to a shoulder—and the videos, music, and texts that Gamso incorporated into the fabric of her dances. At her death, Gamso was completing two dance/film projects: one a reflection on her life in dance, the other a re-envisioning of a family secret. —Leslie Satin



Gamso in
Port of Asides (1980). Photo by Tom Brazil.