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August 19, 2013 5:37 pm
Meredith Monk is something of a polymath: a “composer, singer, director/choreographer and creator of new opera, music-theatre works, films and installations”, in the words of the programme. Her creations typically ignore conventional boundaries between art forms, and this latest, in which she also performs, has movement that is not quite dance, lighting that is almost installation and singing that melts into primeval sounds.
There are no words and nothing resembling a linear narrative. Meaning is expressed through singing and instrumental music – of the eight performers, three play violin, keyboards, percussion and various wind instruments – as well as chanting, choreography and silent, mime-like exchanges. There are discrete scenes, or movements, signalled by subtle shifts in lighting (there is no set), and each one employs a different tone and mode of expression. But underlying these disparate episodes is a concern with how we communicate and interact. The performers develop a kind of proto-language, with a vocabulary of hard, chanted “nananas”, plaintive “oohs” and an extraordinary vocal whirring, like insects at night. At one point, Monk, alone on the stage, comes right to the front and mouths something urgently, silently, before crying out in frustration at not being understood.
The performers look, sound and move together like a tribe. But there are telling moments when individual identities are asserted – a note throwing out a harmony, or a movement just off beat. Their singing has an ethereal quality, with layers of chords that seem to scrunch and stretch. Monk draws on early sacred music – yet this work failed to move me as that music can, at times because it came in too-short snippets and at others because the accompanying action or imagery was distracting.
Alongside its concern with human interaction, On Behalf of Nature is, as the title suggests, about the natural world – or so the programme tells us. But complex ideas about environmentalism simply cannot be conveyed through the medium of dance, so what we get are bird-like movements and animalistic passion. There is a short, over-literal video projection suggesting man’s impact on the natural world – flowers opening; a hedonistic nightclub; sea life; a space rocket – that jars stylistically but provides some thematic coherence. Despite its bold spirit and beautiful moments, this work is likely to split audiences – for some it will be richly meditative, for others exasperating.
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