Mr. Bojangles

Last Friday evening I went to see Einstein on the Beach, the hottest ticket in Ann Arbor du jour. A very big feather in the cap for UMS. I could hardly find my way among the throngs of people milling about in the cavernously cemented lobby of the Power Center.  A generous mix of older folks, funky treetowners and students.

They told us the house wasn’t going to open until 7:10 (the performance was supposed to begin at 7) due to the softly plodding snowstorm outside. I already knew I wasn’t going to stay for the entire 4.5 uninterrupted hours of performance. If I still lived in A2, I probably would have. Sigh. Long drives are such a bitch nowadays.

As we were led to our seats, a few members of the ensemble were seated onstage, singing 12, 123, 1234, 432, etc. It takes stamina (both vocal and cerebral) to sing Philip Glass live.  I know, because I sang 4 movements of North Star once. You sing the same note repeatedly, then move to a different melody set/subset which bears repeating a certain number of times, etc. I felt for those singers.  I also wanted to be one of them, in a weird way.

One thing about Glass’ music, it allows the mind to drift.  And mine certainly did.  I realized almost everything that he penned after Einstein, actually contains morsels and fragments of Einstein–the exception being his marvelous Solo Piano work, which I absolutely adore.

I really dug the Lori Anderson-esque spoken word bits. It’s folly to think her influence didn’t cut a swathe of some kind. This ditty was written and originally performed by Lucinda Childs (who is also Einstein’s choreographer):

I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket
and there were all these aisles
and there were all these bathing caps that you could buy
which had these kind of Fourth of July plumes on them
they were red and yellow and blue
I wasn’t tempted to buy one
but I was reminded of the fact that I had been avoiding
the beach

Lucinda’s words were much better than her choreography, which seemed very dated and yet disturbingly familiar. What’s up with the veneration of 1970s choreography?  Ahem. Ok, well this was actually choreographed in the 70s so it gets a pass. I also really liked the Einstein figure sitting alone stage left of the pit, playing the violin. Glass’ musical tropes never sounded more rich or organic. Repetition. I wonder how much new stage technology was incorporated into this production? Repetition. Einstein as thought process, as living being.

It was nice to be part of history, part of the spectacle. I suspect a lot of the audience had no idea what they were in for, even the older seen-it-all-in-Ann-Arbor crowd. Some people left after 2 hours.  Glass’ music can be quite relentless at times. Also, 4.5 hours is a lot of time to ask of an audience when there isn’t any detectable narrative, just a lot of repeated motifs (seashell, clocks, trains).  I didn’t mind, because I could extrapolate bits of narrative from them. Time, movement, light, relativity, etc.

After the A2 ‘preview,’ the production is going on final a world tour with the original creative team.

This is about the things on the table
This one could be counting up
This one has been being very American
The scarf of where in black and white
If you see any of those baggy pants it was huge chuck the hills
If you know it was a violin to be answer the telephone and if
anyone asks you please it was trees 

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