Theater archives

Three Decades of Duende


In the crazy, cross-pollinating ’70s, Robert Rauschenberg assembled stuff for Merce Cunningham, Robert Morris hung out at Judson Church, and in a loft downtown Simone Forti wove her way through Charlemagne Palestine’s minimalist piano-plunking. From November 8 through 10 at Danspace you can experience, for an evening at least, those heady days and witness a happening for yourself, as Palestine and Forti return to New York for an event they’ve dubbed “Illuminations.”

Palestine, 54 and now living in Belgium, was legendary for marathon performances in which he’d hammer away repetitively for hours, producing a sound both hypnotically motionless and explosive. Forti, like her Judson kin, similarly concerns herself with stripping art down to its essentials. “In Spanish they talk of duende,” she says. “I call it the dance state: where the juices flow, where something really comes through you. Charlemagne goes there, and it stimulates me to go there, too.”

Forti, now based in Los Angeles, first heard Palestine’s music when La Monte Young introduced them in 1971; during the first of their many improvisatory sessions, her body responded instantly. “I began walking fast, then gliding toward running in a circle, then tilting this way or that into different curves and mandalas. Just in the way he wouldn’t create a specific melody, I wouldn’t create a specific phrase. We got these forces going, and forms would emerge.” Thirty years later, she hasn’t slowed down. “Knock on wood, I’m not yet limited in my body. I’m a tai chi buff, and I work with a low center of gravity. I’ve never been a leaper. I think of myself as a jazz musician, where I’m evolving the material, trying to reach an inspired frame of mind. And I feel like a 66-year-old saxophone player who can still jam!”