Sunday, October 27, 2019

"THE DAY" arrives

Cellist Maya Beiser with Wendy Whelan
performing The Day
(photos: Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow)

by Maya Beiser, Lucinda Childs, David Lang and Wendy Whelan
October 22-27

In all honesty, when I hear that the events of September 11, 2001 inspired a piece of art, I note and then turn away from that detail, hoping for an alternative reason to connect. The excellence of THE DAY's principal collaborators--cellist Maya Beiser, dancer Wendy Whelan, choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer David Lang--drew me to The Joyce this week for this work's New York premiere. (I went, in particular, for Beiser, and please hurry to her site's video page and share my new obsession.) Thinking back now, I find myself drifting between certainty that THE DAY reflects a moment in our history and, at the very same time, wavering certainty about what my eyes and ears testified as I gazed from my seat in the audience. Thus, for me, it might be the perfect evocation of the experience of witnessing 9/11.

Performed without intermission, the interdisciplinary work consists of two parts--The Day and World To Come, named for music previously composed by Lang for Beiser--and contemplates the aftermath of a soul's separation from its body. The width and height of the Joyce stage, backed by Joshua Higgason's video projection, contribute to THE DAY's monumentality and hallucinatory depth of field and dreamy elusiveness.

In the opening part, Beiser and Whelan occupy separate, opposing territories--cellist and cello crowning a translucent incline; white-draped ballerina starting off artfully perched on a stool as if posing for a fashion shoot. Sara Brown's minimalist, abstract set--angled lines suggest subtle demarcation--works in tandem with the strength, and severity, that Childs' ideas bring out in Whelan's deft improvisations which, at times, evoke an iconic rendering of the architectural proportions of the human body. She creates, and exists within, pristine, divine abstractions.

Lang crafted the voiceover text for Part 1, Beiser writes in her program notes, out of numerous statements crowd-sourced from the Internet, each phrase completing his own phrase "I remember the day I...." Each statement is separated from the next by six seconds, giving the text a hypnotic rhythm, like a prayerful litany, and I found it fascinating to find that he had carefully alphabetized the statements.

I stopped speaking. I stumbled. I switched. I talked. I talked to myself sternly.

Each statement, taken out of context, could sound as if it captured a mundane moment in time. But, in fact, Lang intends each to mark a significant turning point in a person's life. Carefully strung on a silver thread of breath, each statement takes its moment to shimmer in light before giving way to the next. So, in a way, each is extraordinary but no one surpasses any other. Each stands in as a symbol of human consciousness, symbol of human experience--and, it is painful to remember, a single loss out of many.

Some of the sonic and visual atmospherics of THE DAY tease the audience while also being unsubtle--a long, muffled, engine-like roar; two white lengths of fabric suspended from the stage's fly space suddenly rippling to the floor; the video speeding bodies into spectral visitations blurred across an interior space; Whelan increasingly wrapped by shroud-like fabric as her body rolls down the incline.

But the music. Beiser's strong, exacting control of her instrument; the energies generated and invoked in her playing. This mastery at the core of THE DAY anchors everything, gives everything else here a reason for being.

Sound design: Dave Cook
Lighting design: Natasha Katz 
Costume design: Karen Young

The Day concludes today with a performance at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

175 Eighth Avenue at West 19th Street, Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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