• Einstein on the Beach Revisited at BAM

    Date posted: January 24, 2013 Author: jolanta
    Widely celebrated as one of the most revolutionary, outrageous works of the 20th century, an opera that breaks all the rules and expectations, Einstein on the Beach was first premiered in Avignon, France in 1976. Now, 37 years later it has been revived for audiences and is back on an International tour, part of which was the return to BAM with 10 performances. During a short stop on the road we had a chance to meet with Helga Davis, one of the performers at Einstein on the Beach, to talk about some of her experiences.

     

     

    Helga Davis, 2013.

     

    Einstein on the Beach Revisited at BAM

    By Masha Froliak

    While the audience takes their seats two women take the stage. Enter Helga Davis and Kate Moran dressed in grey pants, white shirts and suspenders.  The two sit down and Davis begins to recite a group of numbers as the music of Philip Glass “Knee 1″ fills the house. The opening scene of Einstein on the Beach seems to remind the audience to fasten their belts and get ready to enter an alternate, magical reality created by the composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson.

    Widely celebrated as one of the most revolutionary, outrageous works of the 20th century, an opera that breaks all the rules and expectations, Einstein on the Beach was first premiered in Avignon, France in 1976. Now, 37 years later it has been revived for audiences and is back on an International tour, part of which was the return to BAM with 10 performances. During a short stop on the road we had a chance to meet with Helga Davis, one of the performers at Einstein on the Beach, to talk about some of her experiences.  She relates, “A highly surreal non-narrative opera doesn’t address the life of Einstein in a biographical way, but is rather a living metaphor of an iconic figure.  When Bob first started talking to Kate and me about our roles” says Helga, “he said you are two sides of the same brain.” Certainly, Einstein seems to be omnipresent throughout the opera. Whether it is the two leading performers, Ms Davis and Ms Moran, drawing numbers in the air as if calculating something or the members of the chorus sticking out their tongues or the young boy (Jasper Newell) standing on an elevated bridge tossing paper airplanes – all these elements beautifully orchestrated by the composer and the director are imaginative references to the life of the scientist.

    The text written by Christopher Knowles and partly by Lucinda Childs, being very abstract and absurdist, draws us even deeper in what seems to be a dream. “It was impossible to just sit and memorize the text because there is nothing to hold on to,” says Helga. “So I decided to think of it in the way I would think of Coltrane or Charlie Parker.” She recited the speech with a gun … “The song I just heard is turning, the song in where tis thing, this will be the time that you come…”  It was beautiful how the opera communicates with the audience, where the narrative doesn’t have any logic and words don’t make any sense.  And even at the moment when I was waiting for something different to happen I was surprised by a new tone, a new note or a new phrase that changed the experience of the piece. “If you hang on to a narrative you are screwed,” laughs Helga, “you can’t stay with the piece in that way.”

    Einstein on the Beach is almost five hours long, and except for about 40 minutes, Helga Davis and Kate Moran are on stage. Davis states that “the biggest challenge is the physical challenge, to physically be able to do the show.” Each movement is so precisely choreographed and demands a great deal of energy and concentration. Specifically, The Trial scene where the lead performer stands still for nearly an hour. When I asked Helga Davis whether there was any fear of being in a production of such intensity and magnitude she shakes her head, “When Kate and I are standing backstage ready to go, I say have a great show girl, ready? Yes. And then we go. After that there is nothing to be afraid of…”

     

     

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