Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Here Comes That Sinking Feeling

November 03, 2008

The event in question
Photo: Barbara Davidson/LAT 2008
You know those moments when you’re watching a performance and you just know you’re in trouble? You suddenly go from “What is this?” to “Oh, that's what it is” and you start looking for the exits to calculate how many people you’ve got to crawl over to get there. Last Wednesday, I attended the opening of a new multi-disciplinary performance piece from the minds of Meredith Monk and visual artist Ann Hamilton entitled Songs of Ascension at the REDCAT downtown. When the woman in the granny dress appeared working on what’s best described as amateur semaphore, I officially crossed from the land of bemused interest to entrapped certainty.

Monk developed the piece in conjunction with the unveiling of a newly built tower on Hamilton’s property in Northern California. The collaborators have been retrofitting the work to other spaces that weren't necessarily in mind with the original conception. And while there's certainly no harm in that, what's made it to the dungeon of the Walt Disney Concert Hall isn't particularly enchanting. Now, I have nothing against pretension. In fact, I'm rather fond of it. And admittedly I think one has to be in the right place mentally to best access Monk's work. Sadly, last week, I was not there. Not even in the neighborhood.

Monk’s music was front and center with 5 primary vocalists, a small supporting chorus, an ambulatory string quartet and two other additional musicians. Everyone wandered around and back periodically breaking out into what is more accurately described as "movement" as opposed to dance. The music was quintessential Monk in its basic structure with enough non-specific spiritual and quasi-ethnic overtones to make you wonder what the connections are. Unfortunately, nothing quite worked. The piece meanders with no real point or focus while managing to create as many moments of irritation as those of beauty. Vocalists gratingly mock the instruments at times in a way that is supposed to be funny, but isn't. But the music did get better as it went along, though I never felt the piece was substantial enough to create a logic of it's own.

Maybe the tower would have improved things, but down in the bowels of downtown L.A., things just seemed pretty vacant.


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