Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Story Time

October 22, 2010

Laurie Anderson in a London performances of Delusion Photo: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features 2010

When a show is bookended by the questions “How do we begin again?” and “Did you ever really love me?” you know you are in for one bleak evening. Such was the case this week with Delusion, the latest offering from Laurie Anderson that arrived for one night only appearances in Santa Barbara and at what’s left of the UCLA Live performing arts series in Westwood. As if being at Royce Hall after the near collapse of public performing arts programming there, Anderson delivered one dour if interesting evening. Not that there weren’t moments of levity. She can still crank out punchy opening lines for stories that soon veer in another direction. But the subject mater ranged from the end of the American empire to dealing with the death of a mother. For a show about the creative and destructive power of language Anderson has filled her text with pointed existential questions around many corners. Her stories cover many of her favorite patches of thematic ground from the technological and scientific to a fantasy world of professional whimsy where she imagines herself on a mistaken identity book tour. There are lots and lots of mothers here as well and Delusion is rich with psychoanalytic content as Anderson reflects on the death of her mother and later dreams she has given birth to a dog.

I found Delusion much more substantial that some of Anderson’s more recent appearances in L.A. There was less of a sense of responding to the zeitgeist here and something deeper if not necessarily always warm or reassuring. Anderson utilizes her familiar and well honed strategies in the performance from her electric violin playing to vocal alteration and the use of mini-cameras for projected video images. It’s a familiar milieu that can produce a comforting and trance like sense, though admittedly it contains none of the surprise or wonder that these same maneuvers did decades ago. The spirit is there, but its hard not to desire the surprise of the new once so closely associated with this founding figure of performance art. Delusion however, still proves that nobody does a dark and stormy evening quite like Anderson can when she sets her mind to it.


I've seen Anderson's past few shows, always hoping for some of the bold, politicized colour of her 1980's work. Needless to say, her shows these days seem to run from introspective to somber to unsettling, if not quite haunting. When I saw press photos of the "Delusion" stage tinkling with little tea candles, I decided to sit this one out. Better to experience Anderson in her VHS glory.
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