Labyrinth, two conjoined installation concertos for violinist Cornelius Dufallo and cellist Maya Beiser, tightly incorporates sound, lighting design, and projected visuals with the musicians’ performance through the use of the K-Bow (a sensor bow developed by Keith McMillan that can wirelessly transmit detailed real-time information to a computer) and LED technology.
This has been a season of scrim at Krannert. First came the cosmological elements projected on the inner walls of a barn in Deke Weaver’s WOLF. Second was the stunning and subtle seascape complementing the Theatre Department’s production of The Tempest. (I have high hopes for what they could do with the forest of Arden as a “green screen” in the upcoming staging of As You Like It.) Third was last night’s world premiere commission entitled Labyrinth Installation Concertos: House of Solitude and Room No. 35. World-class string musicians became props to that dreamy, gauzy fabric with the power to manipulate both light and sound.
The concept of “installation concertos” is still troubling me a day later. Installation art works best when the viewer is allowed to engage with it on their own terms, at their own pace. (I’m thinking especially of a Dan Flavin exhibit at the MCA I saw back in 2005.) Concertos performed in a large concert hall with the house lights out give the audience a great deal less agency over their viewing choices. And while true that the performers were at times stage right of the main light show, the K-Bows and their beautifully embodied performances remained the center of attention. So while indeed the performances were innovative in terms of technology (although I have long been a fan of electronic quartets like BOND), the forum was far more traditional in execution than I think they intended.
A similar quandary of execution was the other half of the title: “Labyrinth.” While the first part opened with projections seemingly out of Bowie’s “Within You” from the film of the same name, the specificity of the term was lost to a bevy of maze images and unspecific circulations. What the production really seemed interested in thematizing—and did so successfully, I think—was emotional “interiority.” Recurring images of eyes, rooms in hotels and rural houses, boxes, and rorschach vacillations attempted to replicate an inwardness, an attention to one’s emotional viscera. But whether creator Paola Prestini intended to replicate or to produce this kind of exploration in their audience, I am still unsure as to which.
Such attentions naturally lead to sexual explorations, and in this the politics of the production took a dramatic turn. The production was divided into two halves, the first performed by a male violinist performing a “man’s journey through the labyrinth of his mind…represented by a solitary house. The bodies symbolize human concoction from which he is offered a path of escape.” The perspective of the projections follow along mazes and paths, carving out a quest to a final path, stretching outward to oblivion, along which we travel following a tall dark man. The performance celebrates absolute singularity as a masculine virtue not only by the performer, but also in the accompanying visuals.
On the other hand, the female cellist is a celebration of the “direct relationship of the musician and her instrument [which] reveals itself as an intimate exposition to the audience.” She began her performance in a box, center stage, seated with her cello between her legs. I mention this particular point not in exaggeration but to indicate an unusual performance choice. Typically experimental solo performance featuring the cello is executed with the performer standing and the instrument raised all the way to the top of its endpin. (Even Joe Kwon, the cellist in the folk band The Avett Brothers, adopts this posture throughout a three-hour set.) The projections quickly evolved from magical woodland images associated women with nature to horizontal frames of hetero-normative sex, making sure to keep the participants heads and feet out of the frame and thus alienating an intimate act. The exploration of our inner labyrinths had evolved into the pornographic, drowning out the stunning virtuosic musical performances altogether.
As a world premiere, the production would inevitably have a few kinks. (I couldn’t resist). Prestini imagines that “the installation concerto creates a larger labyrinth with the symbolic use of advanced technology to depict intimate human turbulence and need for control.” The music was beautifully complex, the K-Bow synchronized lighting stimulating, all tempered by the manipulations of scrims. Yet the core of the production, the “why” of its content, seemed entirely disconnected from both this execution and its initial Midwest college-town audiences. In the end it read like an art school capstone project with exorbitant production values, lost in a labyrinth of too many aspirations.
- The Labyrinth Installation Concertos: House of Solitude and Room No. 35 played for one night only, Saturday 1 February (world premiere), in the Tyron Festival Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- You can also download the program for this production, here.
- Below is a pre-premiere excerpt from Labyrinth from Beth Morrison Projects on Vimeo: