"I'm going on 48," announces dancer Annabelle Gamson pointblank, casually yielding the one piece of information that most women - and men - over 30 won't vouchsafe except under threat of torture.
"Can't you tell?" she asks. "I haven't done anything with my hair color. Now, you take my first teacher, Julia Levien, the one who taught me the Duncan dances. She's still living in New York and still performing, but try and pry her age out of her."
In fact, Gamson's age isn't easy to estimate. The thick, swirling hair is pearlish white, accented with dark streaks. The fair skin is taut, though, and the blue eyes glimmer bright laughing and young.
Unconventional candor isn't the only thing she shares with Isadora Duncan, the social iconoclast and artistic rebel of the early 1900s whose dance works Gamson was the first to resurrect in recent times. She'll be performing three Duncan pieces on her solo recital program at George Washington University's Marvin Theater tonight, along with Mary Wigman's "Pastorale" and several of her own compositions.
Like Isadora, Gamson is not tall but large in frame, with a ranginess that suggests generosity of movement. Like Isadora also, she views dance as a natural outgrowth of personal development, an integral part of living.
"What started me off dancing? Life! People who dance don't need teachers," she says with smiling scorn. "Oh, at a certain point it becomes 'official' that you're a dancer, maybe. But Rubinstein started playing piano at 3, and I've been dancing all my life. Besides, dancing is with us - we don't create it, we discover it."
Gamson resents being taken for some sort of reincarnation of Isadora, and though her own reconstructions of Duncan dances appear to have set off a flurry of revivals, she keeps her distance from the Duncan "movement." "I've really done the Duncan pieces only as part of my own repertoire, but I don't feel that I'm part of the Duncan clique.
"I'm very interested in what Isadora contributed to dance, I've paid close attention to what she wrote about dance. And sure, I've gotten involved with her, how can I help it? But I'm not especially interested in her personal side. It's her art that concerns me, not the mystique."
Nevertheless, the Duncan parallels keep cropping up. Orphaned at an early age, she was taken in tow by Julia Levien, who had been in the companies of Irma and Anna Duncan, Isadora's disciples. "By the time I was 16 I was appearing with Katherine Dunham's troupe at Cafe Society Uptown, actually earning my living as a dancer." There followed four years of show-biz, "On the Town" and other musicals.
Then, like the young Duncan, she left the country."After four years of Broadway, I chucked it all and she went to Europe. To get an education I suddenly realized I was missing. I don't mean school. I lived in Paris for awhile, and studied mime with Etienne Decroux. After that I got a job working in Italy - I was married to a painter at the time - and learned an immense amount about art history, painting, architecture. It's wonderful way to learn, because everything over there is connected with art, it's all around you."
She came back to New York and danced for a while with Anna Sokolow. "But seeing all that art had me start thinking of Isadora, as if I were seeing it through her eyes, discovering her movement impulses," she recalls. She went to Levien and asked her to show her the Duncan dances again.
In the meantime, once more like Isadora, she had gotten very wrapped up in the joys of domesticity. She remarried on her return to the States, this time a musician - conductor and composer Arnold Gamson.
They live in Rye, on Long Island Sound. "It's very Gatsbyish, very '20s," she says approvingly. There she has thrown herself into raising a family with the same devotion she gives to her dancing (as Isadora did too). "I take mothering very seriously," she says. "I've got a great deal of feeling for children, and also animals, and nature. I have two kids - a girl, 17, and a boy, 15 - millions of plants, and pussycat. And I'm very negligent of all of them. But I'm very attentive in another way, very caring. Just let someone get sick, I'm the best nurse in the world."
After experimenting with the Duncan dances in her Rye studio for a long while, about four years ago she "went public" with them in a New York solo recital which was an unexpected hit with the press and public. "I think people go for them," Gamson says, "because these dances are romantic and soulful, and Duncan used such beautiful music. People are sick of using their heads - they want something they can get involved in, and feel."
"Isadora's solos - she was always essentially a soloist - are very precisely structured," Gamson says. "But each piece dictates its own design, like poetry, and what really makes the performance interesting is nuance, color. I think what I most admire, both in the Duncan and Wigman pieces, is the simplicity of image they achieve over all the wealth of detail. "Nobody but the artist knows how much incredible labor and thought goes into it - none of the technique is showing. They made simple look easy, but simple is hard. That's what I'm trying to find in my own work. I do don't know if I have it - probably not. I feel like a child exploring the possibilities. Eventually, it will come.