Photograph by Cameron Wiggit
PERFORMANCE STRIVERS: Meredith Monk and friends fashion a ritual of ascension.
By Michael S. Gant
I HAVE ONLY seen Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton's new work, Songs of Ascension, in recorded snippets from a workshop version performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Even this short immersion reveals a complex work that freely roams beyond the boundaries that often demarcate theater, music, opera and visual art. A group of singers, all but one dressed in red, form a tight inward-facing circle at the center of the stage; their movements and sounds—not singing, but wrenching, keening vocalizations—are accompanied by a traditional string quartet seated to one side. Images course across a dark background, contained in a circular beams of light—an eclipse, migrating birds. A single woman in a state of agitation moves about a fallen figure. Monk herself, identifiable by her trademark long braids, ululates in her unique style while playing an odd, bellows-powered instrument. Cats it's not.
Songs of Ascension, commissioned by Stanford's Lively Arts, will receive its world premiere this Saturday. The innovative collaboration between Monk, a noted avant-garde singer, composer, filmmaker and performance artist (and even a contributor to the soundtrack for The Big Lebowski), and Hamilton, a leading installation artist, expands on an earlier work designed specifically for a stone tower that Hamilton built at a ranch in Northern California. The verticality of the site suggested a variety of religious traditions of striving for transcendence, from Buddhism to Christianity to Islam. In addition to Monk herself and her Vocal Ensemble, the performance will also feature violinist Todd Reynolds and members of the Pacific Mozart ensemble from Berkeley.
SONGS OF ASCENSION by MEREDITH MONK and ANN HAMILTON, presented by Stanford Lively Arts, will be performed Saturday (Oct. 18) at Memorial Auditorium, Stanford. Tickets $12.50–$60. (650.725.ARTS)
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