Einstein on the Beach
Music and lyrics by Philip Glass
Choreography and text by Lucinda Childs
Directed by Robert Wilson
Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY
September 14-23, 2012
|Koh (left) as Einstein (photo: Stephanie Berger)|
Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's famous collaboration, was considered back in 1976 as a landmark of some sort: after sitting through its latest incarnation at BAM, I still don't know what sort.
If composer Glass and director Wilson hadn't continued in the same minimalist vein for the ensuing 36 years of their careers, I would have thought that Einstein was an elaborate joke on the audience. But this endless procession of disjointed, pointless scenes under a nonsensical title is, in its way, a perfect snapshot of two artists who have never moved forward, leaning on the same familiar aural and visual tropes to reassure their audiences.
It's done with undeniable cleverness: music, words, movement and visuals are so simplistic—indeed, simple-minded—that audience members can read what they want to them. The opening “Knee Plays” has gems of verbiage as the numbers 1 through 10 (and others) repeated ad nauseum. Christopher Knowles' text reaches its unintended apogee with “So this could be reflections for/Christopher Knowles-John Lennon/Paul McCartney-George Harrison.” What I wouldn't have given to hear actual Beatles' songs, even “Revolution 9”!
Lucinda Childs' choreography would be more impressive if everything wasn't repeated to distraction: obviously some consider this hypnotic, but it was a narcotic to me. Glass's music is equally distinctive, if only because it drones on and on: who else would claim it as his own? I must mention the performance of violinist Jennifer Koh as Einstein, old-man wig and makeup intact (she alternated with Antoine Silverman), playing the same Glass notes again and again in a formidable display of technique. But there's no soul to this music.
Wilson's directing most recently reared its head with an abominable Threepenny Opera at BAM last fall: with his arbitrary movements and glacial pacing intact, there's no doubt he has a recognizable style. But there's no soul to it, and Einstein on the Beach remains a cipher that lasts an interminable 4-1/2 hours.