Monday, November 15, 2010

Dance: The Music of David Lang Interpreted at the Guggenheim's Works and Process

I saw this show six weeks ago, but haven't yet forgotten my surprise that two pieces of music by the same composer—the so-called laws of nature and forced march by David Lang—could be so different. The aim of the program was rather to demonstrate how differently two choreographers might interpret this music, offering first Jessica Lang's (no relation) interpretation, then Pontus Lidberg's, displayed on the bodies of the same dancers from Morphoses. And yet, while there was certainly a difference to be seen in the choreographer's linear tone, it was far more subtle than the overt difference in the two musical selections each were given to work with.

Lang composed the so-called laws of nature for a percussion ensemble, providing in the score instructions for creating the "instruments" with which to make the sounds. The resonant eastern chimes are actually the vibrations of teacups, which plink and tinkle with the organic delicacy of rain on a wind-free lake. While Jessica Lang ties her dancers to the staccato rhythm of these sounds and Pontus Linberg to the length of their reverberations, both choreographers work in a modern, sensorialist vocabulary. To find a parallel in painting, Lang uses the bolder lines of the Expressionists, and Lindberg the softer insinuations of the Impressionists, but the intention is shared, and the styles are only separated by a decade, and a taste of hardship.

The audience's hardship is in being assaulted not just once, but twice, by the interminable forced march, a meandering piece for virtuoso electric guitar which Lang gleefully admitted was an experiment in extending a phrase, forced into a march's time signature (and enforced by a loathsome snare), for as long as possible. The choreographers were given freedom in ordering the musical selections, and Lang chose to begin with the so-called laws and conclude with forced march. Our respite was only for the short duration of conversation between the choreographers and composers before we were again subjected to forced march, for Lidberg chose to use it first, perhaps in hopes of getting it out of the way, and then assuaging us with the softer patterns of the so-called laws. Unfortunately, after sitting through forced march twice, our nerves were raw and frazzled, and no balm could do them any good—even the magical, color-changing costumes that echoed for Lidberg the mid-night blooming of a flower that only shows itself every hundred years, and which showed itself to him while he was choreographing the piece.

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