The Colors in Gray

Dancing in a Winter Wonderland

In the most beautiful number, the four principal women dive through double-decker hoops in increasingly daring and witty combinations. Even constrained by the obstacles, for split seconds they exhibit the freedom of dolphins at play. My favorite film moment, screened while we're groping for our coats, shows rehearsal footage. Time and again the women crash to the floor, knock hoops over, bang into one another. Overcoming is what nature's about.

What event could more perfectly grace Danspace's 25th-anniversary Silver Series than A Celebration Service presented by Meredith Monk and her Vocal Ensemble? Danspace honors the artists who've contributed to its history; Monk, weaving music she's composed over the years into a kind of nondenominational church service, acknowledges both her own history and the aura of Danspace's host, the beautiful old St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery.

The texts spoken by Pablo Vela and Emerald Trinket Monsod include ancient Buddhist conundrums, haiku, an Osage Indian woman's initiation song, a sentence from Martin Buber, and a 12th-century prayer by Hildegard von Bingen. The "hymn" is a song from Monk's 1976 Quarry; we all learn the melody and sing it in canon.

From the first moment, when Monk's voice floats out from the balcony, it's clear how wonderfully her music suits this space, rehallows it. Earthy yet unearthly, the notes resonate, filling the vault. When the performers form a north-south line, every other one facing east or west, and sing "Other Worlds Revealed" from the 1991 opera Atlas, their voices chime out like bells, striking the walls and sailing back. The acoustics amplify the way Monk's music often builds from a small, wordless repeating pattern to a rich, ringing texture that constantly changes its interior configuration.

Monk and her 11 marvelous colleagues never look like a chorus, but like interesting individuals in deep harmony with one another. The varied ways she arranges them in the space allows us to identify, say, Allison Easter's rich alto or the sweet ping of Thomas Bogdan's tenor. They rarely just stand and sing. The music seems to fill their bodies. In the "Celebration Dance" from The Politics of Quiet (1996), they jump and clap and saunter in a quite complicated folk dance that forms a shape-shifting mandala on the wooden floor. Opera singers Stephen Kalm and Randall Wong are now almost as free and nimble as dance-trained singers Ching Gonzalez and Janice Brenner. The delight they all take in Monk's musical theater turns performance into a devotional act.

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