Some of the best artistic experiences I’ve had in life come from situations where I have no context and no expectations. I walk into them blind and senseless and come out feeling disoriented, astonished and confused. It’s an exhilarating feeling!
Saturday afternoon my husband and I decided to snag some tickets to the LA Opera. I’ve never been to the Opera before and my husband gave me some words of warning about this particular performance:
Husband: “Honey, Philip Glass is not for everyone”.
Me: “What do you mean?”
Husband: “Well, he loves repetition and syncopated rhythm patterns…he definitely marches to the beat of a different drum. I really like his music, but many can’t stand it.”
Me: (mentally checking the requisite boxes needed to “spontaneously” go to the Opera); “Hmm, not mainstream? (check), controversial? (check), limited engagement? (check), my husband likes Glass so much he’d go to the Opera? (double check), a FIVE HOUR Opera? (hmmm…).”
Then we watch the promotional video:
Me: “Well it’s either going to be outrageously bad or outrageously good, but it’s guaranteed to be outrageous. We can’t pass that up.”
My husband and I look at each other quizzically.
Together: “Let’s do this!”
And just like that we’re off to the Opera.
Einstein on the Beach was composed by Philip Glass, and directed/designed by artist Robert Wilson. The two collaborated with modern choreographer Lucinda Childs and the three brought the original Einstein on the Beach to audiences in Avignon, France and the Venice Biennale 1976; the piece has been produced in limited runs for 37 years. While the piece was about “Einstein” it’s not a linear story of Einstein per se, instead it was a stream of consciousness featuring a montage of speeches, repetitive chanting, counting, incoherent dialog and dancing all revolving around a theme of repetition and pattern. This is where the piece brilliantly blends different artistic mediums sharing the motif of repetition with slight variations in patterning. In each act you visually or audibly discover a distinct pattern in sound or movement; just when you think you have figured out the sequence, it varies slightly.
“Knee Plays” present dual monologues used to anchor the Opera and connect acts between set changes; they graciously offer viewers a mental break from the acts. The Opera is challenging to digest; there’s no plot which leaves the audience up to their own devices to figure it all out, but visually it wasn’t overstimulating, rather it was mesmerizing. It requires the same mental fortitude as Yoga; you have to turn your mind off to shut out the world to become immersed in the piece. In this meditative state I was transported to a world so unfamiliar with my own that the realities outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion were far from my mind.
Visually the set design was stunning; the lighting alone had a palpable presence and accented the syncopated musical composition. This reminded me of James Turrell. The choreography was stunning in its sequencing, and Jennifer Koh’s violin solos were simultaneously manic and haunting in some ways and motionless and inviting in others.
How do you explain the unexplainable? I’m reading this back to myself and realize that this is some existential stuff, and I would probably have an easier time explaining computer code…ultimately all I can say is that it was an incredible experience and one I will not soon forget. The fact that Marc Jacobs was inspired by this Opera really explains why his runway shows have always been so overwhelmingly magical. His 2013 Spring collection directly pulled from Einstein on the Beach (hint, see 6:25).
The final engagement of Einstein on the Beach at the LA Opera is tonight which also marks the end of a 2 year U.S. engagement. The 2012-2014 tour concludes in Paris in January, 2014.