I am always inclined to appreciate artists who choose the ambitious path.
Tonight’s Haus Musik in The Great Hall directed by Jennifer Nichols aimed to make some challenging connections. This multi-disciplinary work (live music, a DJ, video, painting, poetry in two languages and dance) spoke to me.
Throughout I was asking myself those words: does this speak to you? We watched and heard four members of Tafelmusik playing in different groupings, namely Felix Deak (viola da gamba), Charlotte Nediger (harpsichord), Geneviève Gilardeau (violin) and Patricia Ahern (violin). They played works by Couperin, Rameau, Constantin, Leclair and Marais.
Sometimes DJ Andycapp’s creations would answer the acoustic sounds of the four instruments of bygone days with a more contemporary sound.
And Jack Rennie came strolling into the space accoutred as one of us, which is to say, in modern dress and carrying a drink.
And then it was a bit as though the music was infecting him at first, as he seemed to fight the impulse to dance as though it were an illness or a kind of madness. And I felt that the music spoke to him. There was an answering voice, speaking in French as though paraphrasing the latent poetry of the moment.
On the big video screen we saw images of lavender, to complement the bunches hanging throughout the Great Hall, as Jennifer Nichols walked and danced in that virtual space while the live music was performed in our acoustical space below the screen, a suggestive series of images employing older buildings, as if to echo that older music.
And so this abstract dynamic was enacted, of two people seeming to be moved and even transformed by the music. We watched both Rennie’s figure –dancing in spite of himself, reading and painting—and Nichols’ video image dressed both in modern clothes and something as if to match the baroque era of the music. Where Rennie seemed to begin in the present and get drawn into the past, Nichols first appearance was in the old guise, but later incarnated in modern dress among a rougher urban landscape.
I was reminded of something I saw a lifetime ago. Brian Macdonald took Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and turned it into a series of dances, the pianist a woman, the chief dancer, a man responding to the poetry of that overpowering work. I was especially ready for this after last night’s Triptyque, a largely abstract work whose dance was mostly dance qua dance, rather than dance as drama or story-telling. Perhaps Nichols’ history with Opera Atelier makes her ready for a dance connected to a story, where the impulse to dance seems motivated by a scenario. I invoke Macdonald’s work because in both instances we watch a kind of romance that is set in motion by the music-making. The proposition that is music, the demand that we open our hearts and imaginations to the beauty of the music, is ultimately a proposition that is seductive, at least at the platonic level, of one voice –the music– seeking someone to listen, someone to follow and perhaps dance, in response.
At the most fundamental level music calls for some kind of response, and our modern rigid silence doesn’t really match the way the music speaks to a normal person. Normal? I refer you to the children crying, who were being shushed (a morning after addendum after realizing that this is vague; there were a couple of small children crying during the show… why they were there in a dark club at night? a mystery) . It’s “normal” for parents to repress their kids, alas, and tell them to be silent. OR we can look at how Rennie twitched to the music. My toes tap, but I’m among silent reverent watchers, as though in a church. I wish for something more pagan I guess, where we all join in the Dionysian revels.
You know that old saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, is there a sound”? Another way of saying that might be “if music is played and no one dances: is there music”?
There is a natural romance in our encounters with the past. We are simultaneously of the present with our electronic devices, our modern clothes and sensibilities, and yet, of the time we encounter. Rennie’s impulse to dance is the music speaking to him, and mostly we stifle ourselves, except for our polite applause at the end. I love that Nichols put all that on the stage for us, both the torture of it and the seductive beauty all at once.
I’m grateful for the experience and the romantic thoughts it provoked.
It spoke to me.