Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Einstein On The Beach, July 31, 2013 ****

Einstein on the Beach–an opera in four acts
Music & lyrics by Philip Glass 
Direction and set & lighting design by Robert Wilson 
Choreography by Lucinda Childs
Spoken text by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson, Lucinda Childs.
State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne, July 31 to Aug 4, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 31, 2013


Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Aug 1, 2013 and in print on Aug 2. KH

It is 20 years since I saw Einstein on the Beach, but it is still strange and mesmerising – and an endurance event at four and a half hours.

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s non-narrative opera, first performed in 1976, challenges even the hardiest theatre-lover with its tightly structured, repetitive score, glacially slow scenes, abstract text, and stylised choreography.
 Kate Moran and Helga Davis

But take heart, perseverance pays with Einstein, and audience members may come and go as they please during four acts that are linked by short, eccentric scenes called Knee Plays.

Wilson and Glass create a complex, visionary theatrical experience that tantalises and taunts with its contrasts and extremes: subtle choral music or intrusive sound, vividly colourful or bland imagery, lyrical or maddening text, graceful or robotic movement, humorous or turgid concepts.

Einstein manages to be both intensely accessible and totally alienating at different moments.

Einstein himself appears only occasionally as a fluffy-haired violinist (Antoine Silverman) or a projected photograph, but the piece channels his exceptional mind with references to space, time, motion, gravity, the bomb, trains, algebraic calculations and the philosophical nature of physics.

The exceptional, six-piece Philip Glass Ensemble, under conductor Michael Riesman, plays Glass’s ‘minimalist’ score with metronomic precision as a fine chorus intones sequential numbers or sings the rhythmic, non-literal, often-incomprehensible poetry of Christopher Knowles.

As audience arrives, two versatile, magnetic performers (Helga Davis, Kate Moran) sit calmly, reciting random numbers and nonsense text, and then reappear between later scenes.

In Train, dancers scribble calculations on invisible blackboards, a train arrives painfully slowly, and a child (Jasper Newell) – perhaps a young Einstein who was obsessed with toy trains – launches paper planes from a high scaffold.

Later, in Night Train, a man and woman (Gregory R. Purnhagen, Helga Davis) – perhaps they are Einstein and his wife? – sing a strange duet while standing on the rear platform of a train.

During Trial and Trial/Prison, both set in a courtroom that has echoes of a scientific laboratory, endless theoretical challenges to science are reflected in impenetrable legal proceedings, speeches and chorus.

The Trial/Prison

Clad in pale casual outfits, dancers (Lucinda Childs Dance Company) float and twirl in an elegantly patterned flow across an empty stage, like molecules in motion.

In the final Spaceship scene, the imagery and music are volatile, with people crammed into cubicles as they perform robotic tasks in a spaceship that flashes and glows while music surges to crescendos.

Einstein on the Beach was ahead of its time in 1976 and still pushes the boundaries of contemporary opera and theatre without resorting to the unnecessary digital graphics and enhancements of the 21st century.

By Kate Herbert

The Spaceship

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