Sunday, September 28, 2014

Philip Glass, The Photographer, Cité de la Musique, Paris

The Photographer @ Cité de la Musique
I can’t imagine why I have never previously made the connection between Phillip Glass’ minimalist music and Edweard Muybridge’s photographs. And yet, it is so obvious, as if the work of the two artists were made for each other: both are structured through repetition, movement towards an infinity that nevertheless finds natural resolution. Both Muybridge’s photographs and Glass’ music are caught between a stasis and movement that bring surprises to the otherwise highly defined rhythms.

All of the resonances were captured so the production I saw last night of Glass’ chamber opera, The Photographer, based on Muybridge’s trial for homicide. The music and photographs are brought together with spoken text by David Byrne and dance choreographed by Shang-Chi Sun. The music, text and dance relate the sensational story of Muybridge’s murder of his wife’s lover and then, as we know, his acquittal at trial. It’s a great story that, like the tensions in still images that are set in motion by a photographic camera, interrupts the narrative with bursts of unpredictability and flamboyance from the dancers in this particular performance.

The innovation of this staging of The Photographer is very much in its bringing together of different media. The modern dance element, inspired by the photographs and Glass’ music is repetitive, postured, yet always very simple and singular. Video projections of Muybridge’s photographs are patterned on the screen behind the dancers, in no particular order, demonstrating the postures and positions of the body in motion, as well as the extraordinary images he took in the Yosemite Valley. The lighting casts shadows of the dancers to fill the screen when there are no other photographs projected.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen more of in this performance was the use of chiaroscuro. The infinite repetitions and patterns of Glass’ music, the same in Muybridge’s photographs that put animals and human figures in motion, and the three dancers whose figures are reflected in shadows on the screen behind them were in perfect conversation. Often though, the shadows were not marked, and could have been more dramatic, in an attempt to magnify further the narrative of repetition and auguring that is Muybridge’s life story.  In the early days of moving images, the days when Muybridge was working, shadow plays told familiar narratives, but as a function of their production they could also appear mechanized. It would have been convincing if the shadows had mimicked these characteristics of the shadow play, and thereby accentuate the multi-media concert of The Photographer. 

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