"Moving in new directions may be a theme for turning 60!" suggested PEACEsista in a comment to yesterday's post about Flannista's aging, arthritic left knee.
Moving in new directions does indeed describe the work of Meredith Monk, an American composer, performer, vocalist, filmmaker, choreographer, Buddhist and Zen practicioner. Click here to visit Monk's official website. Monk's (who is 71 and hopes to be working until the day she dies) expertise and elegance in so many disciplines is truly inspiring, particularly for Flann, who is about to enter her sixth decade and is fueled by the same joys and disciplines that fuel Monk.
Today is the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, which in the Christian church commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. What better day to post the above video featuring excerpts from Meredith Monk's composition, "Songs of Ascension." I first purchased this CD in September 2011, after Amazon had recommended it to me based on my prior purchases. Truth be told, after the first listen, I concluded that Meredith Monk, like Laurie Anderson, was an acquired taste. "People don't always know what to make of the work [referring to all of Monk's compositions]," said the Washington Post. "Some people find it utterly simplistic, others become adoring fans. Few remain ambivalent."
Before getting into the details of last week, here are a few more details about the above video. I know that it is long (10 minutes), but again, it is excerpts from the complete hour-long "Songs of Ascension" composition. If you watch it, you will either love it or hate it. It was performed in the Ann Hamilton Tower which was "fundamentally conceived as a performance space". Ann Hamilton is herself a visual artist moving in new directions. Click here to access Hamilton's website.
Now to last week.
Matissta called and asked if I would like to attend a "Creative Dialogue" entitled, "Considering the Human Condition: On Behalf of Nature" featuring someone she had never heard of before: Meredith Monk. I vaguely recalled that I had Monk's "Songs of Ascension" in my iTunes Library. I said to Matissta, "She's an acquired taste, but let's go."
The discussion featuring Monk and three others, including two scientists, was fascinating and inspired the Sassistas! to attend Monk's latest performance piece and composition, "On Behalf of Nature" last Saturday at the University of Maryland. Flannista also purchased three more Monk CDs, Mercy; impermanence, a reaction recording following the sudden death of her longtime partner; and Monk Mix: remixes and interpretations of Meredith Monk songs compiled by admirers (including Bjork) to celebrate her 40-year anniversary as a songwriter.
About the performance of "On Behalf of Nature", the Washington Post said:
If nature were to rise up and speak in defense of itself, its voice might sound like a Meredith Monk theater piece. That was the goal of Monk’s new work, “On Behalf of Nature,” presented at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. The path-forging choreographer-composer-artist created the piece — theater without words, dance with voice — to embody “nonhuman entities” communicating through her as a spokesperson.
Monk is wise to prefer abstraction over narrative, aura over character, symbolism over clear meaning, which allows the viewer to map her work onto his or her own thoughts and perceptions. Various ideas arose in my mind in reaction to the movements of Monk and seven collaborators, three of whom also played the array of instruments to one side of the stage: tree-branch arms waving in the wind, ants marching in rows, aboriginal dances both anxious and joyously whoop-filled, a couple lost in admiration of an open vista, waves crashing on a shore.
The Sassistas! were completely enraptured by the performance which was more a meditation than a narrative, and stayed afterwards for Monk's Q&A. She possesses a generous spirit and gentle sense of humor and shared that perhaps the most freeing and pivotal moment in her creativity was when she realized that the human voice truly was an instrument and not dependant on lyrics. Indeed, at times during Saturday's performance, it was hard to tell what sounds were instruments and what sounds were voices. It was spellbinding.
"I somehow sensed when I was a teenager that I wanted to do my own work," says Monk in a quote I found on-line. "I was quite clear that I didn't want to be an interpretive kind of artist. I had an intuition about wanting to create my own form, in one way or another, whatever that would be."
Whatever that form would be -- even when she didn't or doesn't know, Monk seems to patiently -- and fiercely -- follow where it leads. Why? "I think of it as an offering," she says. "An offering."
If anyone in the sassosphere would like a copy of "Songs of Ascension", please let the Sassistas! know and Flannista will be grateful to provide you with a copy.