EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH
by Robert Wilson music & lyrics by Philip Glass spoken text by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M Johnson, Lucinda Childs.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 13 May 2012.
6pm 9-11 May.
5.30pm 12 May.
4pm 13 May.
Runs 4hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 243 0785.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 May.
Seventies show not at all washed-up.
A classic of the avant-garde is usually an old artefact, or a new performance restyled for the present. Yet this ‘opera’ by director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass is recreated, by people many of whom were hardly alive then, according to the 1976 premiere.
It has to be taken (or deserted, or both – there’s an invitation to leave and return in the no-interval expanse of the performance) on its own terms. Much of Glass’s music sounds like an accompaniment waiting for a tune, or harmonic development (a late saxophone sequence liberates the ear from his patterns). Passing scenes – one, a courtroom, reappears – suggest a story, but there is none, dance scenes are abstract, disconnected, and everything happens slowly. Very, very slowly – Einstein gives Noh a run (or crawl) for its money.
Yet the creative energy is evident. Einstein never speaks, but fiddles half in the orchestra pit while the world turns and, possibly, burns with nuclear power out of control – the title’s other main reference is Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, about a nuclear-irradiated world.
Down from 5 hours (possibly due to improved stage technology), the length is vital to the piece. At times, it frustrates: a horizontal bar of white light gradually shifting to the vertical, accompanied by a single chord varying slightly in its arpeggiations, is perfect for anyone who finds watching paint dry over-exhilarating.
But Wilson’s production matches the gradual shifts in Glass’s music (or vice versa) and there are compulsive scenes, one on the rear-platform of a night train, evolving from love to crime story. Or in the way the recurring motif of robotic movement on stage is taken up by a woman calculating figures in the high window of a brick-built power station. Yet all the calculations finally prove useless, as workers furiously seek to control a nuclear engine-room.
In comparison, the concluding quiet hymn to human love seems an over-easy generalisation. But the energy and imaginative force of the whole make this, if not always spellbinding, continually compulsive, a source for many subsequent pieces, that’s staked its own remarkable territory.
Einstein: Antoine Silverman.
Character 1/Woman with Newspaper/Lawyer/Woman/Woman with Flashlights: Helga Davis.
Character 2/Witness: Kate Moran.
Woman in Perpendicular Dance/Woman Reading: Katie Dorn.
Diagonal Dance/Woman with Telescope: Caitlin Scranton.
Woman with Shell/Juror/: Hai-Ting Chinn.
Man with Red Shirt calculating/Juror: Tomas Cruz.
Woman with String: Katherine Fisher.
Train Engineer/Juror: Philip Anderson.
Man with String: Vincent McCloskey.
Man with StringMan on Bench 1: Matthew Pardo.
Boy on Tower/Young Judge/Boy in Elevator: Jasper Newell.
Juror: Michèle A Eaton.
Judge/Bus Driver: Charles Williams.
Guard: Jason Walker.
Front Stenographer: Sharon Milanese/Dancer in Horizontal Elevator.
Rear Stenographer: Shakirah Stewart.
Man with Briefcase/Man on Bench 2/Steven Weed 1: Patrick John O’Neill.
Indian/Juror: Solange Merdinian.
Man on Bench Reading Newspaper/Steven Weed 2/Flying Man: Lonnie Poupard Jr.
Juror/Woman Calculating in Tower: Lindsay Kesselman.
Juror/Man: Gregory R Purnhagen.
Jurors: Kate Maroney, Melanie Russell, Joe Damon Chappel, John Kawa.
Prisoner 1/Silhouette Dancer/Dancer with Flashlights.: Ty Boomershine.
Prisoner 2: Anne Lewis.
Chorus: Philip Anderson, Joe Damon Chappel, Hai-Ting Chinn, Tomas Cruz, Michèle A Eaton, John Kawa, Lindsay Kesselmen, Kate Maroney, Solange Merdinian, Gregory R Purnhagen, Melanie Russell, Json Walker.
Dancers: Katie Dorn, Katherine Fisher, Anne Lewis, Vincent McCloskey, Sharon Milanese, Patrick John O’Neill, Matthew Pardo, Lonnie Poupard Jr, Caitlin Scranton, Shakirah Stewart.
Musicians: Lisa Bielawa, David Crowell, Dan Dryden, Stephen Erb, Jon Gibson, Mick Rossi, Andrew Sterman.
Vocal Soloists: Michèle A Eaton, Kate Maroney, Philip Anderson, Hai-Ting Chinn.
The Lucinda Childs Dance Company.
The Philip Glass Ensemble.
Director/Designer/Lighting: Robert Wilson.
Co-director: Ann-Christin Rommen.
Lighting: Uni Schoenebaum.
Sound: Kurt Munkacsi.
Music Director/Conductor: Michael Riesman.
Choreographer: Lucinda Childs.
Costume: Carlos Solo.
Hair/Make-up: Campbell Young Associates, Luc Verschueren.