Coming just in time for Halloween is dancemaker Rosanna Gamson’s wild new piece, “Layla Means Night,” based on the centuries-old Persian, Arabic and Indian folk tales that make up “One Thousand and One Nights.”
The Los Angeles-based troupe Rosanna Gamson/World Wide presents the world premiere of the riff on the Scheherazade narrative in which a young bride saves herself from the murderous fate visited upon her predecessors by entertaining her husband with fantastic tales.
“We’re running a kind of three-ring circus,” Gamson says. Opening next week, the work utilizes all three floors in the ODC Theater and offers a full-immersion experience into the sights, sounds and — literally — flavors of the Persian culture.
As patrons enter the theater, someone washes each person’s hands and offers them something to eat. (Note to patrons: Don’t eat a heavy meal before you go.)
Librettist Niloufar Talebi opens the piece with a woman’s voice, saying, in Farsi, “Once upon a time …”
In Farsi, layla does, in fact, mean night, and the transition from night to day figures heavily in the production.
“Every morning a cock crows, orange juice is squeezed and another wife dies,” Gamson says.
Theatergoers’ perceptions will change based on where they stand or sit. Sometimes they will see only shadow projections. Gamson says the work — which includes contemporary choreography as well as traditional Persian dance — challenges her own creative limits, particularly in reference to audience perceptions.
“Scheherazade is about trying to keep your audience — and the critics — from killing you. I find myself in that position a lot, she says, laughing. “You’re trying to save your own life, while entertaining and transforming your audience into a sympathetic group.”
Initially inspired by anti-Arabic sentiment that arose after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing when she lived in New York, Gamson’s piece examines the way individuals relate to others whose world view might be different from their own.
“I like to have both sides of a conversation talking to each other. … It’s more interesting for me to spend time with those who don’t agree with me,” she says.
The score is by Houman Pourmehdi and Pirayeh Pourafar, whose works have been heard internationally and in U.S. film scores. Pourafar is the first woman to play traditional Persian music outside Iran.
Gamson encourages theatergoers to come early and even suggests wearing black, white, red or orange (colors the performers wear) and comfortable shoes.
“Dress like you’re going to a party in someone’s home,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Layla Means Night
Presented by Rosanna Gamson/World Wide
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday through Nov. 3
Tickets: $35 to $50