Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit

I’ve remarked on this before, but there’s a reason that I’ve been able to catch several performances of Fred Rzewski’s viscerally thrilling pieces “Coming Together” and “Attica” over the past few years: shit is fucked up and bullshit. We may have enormous difficulty digging our way through the Augean quantities of shit that fall on us from men and women wearing business suits and populating offices in New York City and Washington D.C., but since no one in the newspapers or on the television news can point out that shit is fucked up, and has been for many years now, without losing their sinecure, it’s an essential victory just to point that out. The news, such as it is, this past week is a reminder of that: it’s not new that the NSA, through the cooperation of telecommunications and data companies, has been gathering the phone calls, emails and internet searches of all Americans, but that had just affected us poor citizens, and we should listen to our betters, like Dianne Feinstein.

Feinstein exactly represents the governing view of America, that it is a geographic boundary on a map, a homeland. This is an impoverishment of the intellect, the soul and the moral senses. You don’t have to be Howard Zinn to see and understand that America is an idea and its boundary is found in every person who trusts and believes in it. But what we can we possibly know? We just go through our days, never appearing on television to deliver our opinions on anything, so therefore we know nothing. The propagandists are the only ones we get to hear from. What we think and say to ourselves and each other is invisible to those who make decisions in what they tell themselves are our best interests. Our voices, if they are heard at all, are those of the underground men.

Rzewski is an underground man, his music has the clarity and force of rock but it is in the Western classical tradition, so it is abstract. It’s political but contains no slogans, has no program or ideology. It simply picks up the necessary responsibility of amplifying the underground so it can be heard, at least briefly, on something like equal footing with the voices of government and its courtiers. It conveys an experience that goes against the prevailing consensus. And come this Thursday, June 13 at the Invisible Dog Art Center, we can hear and see Rzewski. “Coming Together” and “Attica” are companion pieces that each make the case that shit is really, really fucked up. The latter is an intense and explosive piece of minimalism where a speaker or singer conveys a letter written shortly before the 1971 uprising at Attica prison. The letter, from Sam Melville, who was among the 39 people killed when governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered the State Police to storm the prison, is full of hints or ominous portents, but never gives away any sense of what was about to happen. “Attica” is the afterword, a gentle and insistently repeated fragment that helps the performing articulate a simple, endlessly haunting statement from a prison who survived. There is very little in the history of music that matches these pieces for their power and humanism, save “O welche Lust!” from Fidelio.

You will see it. Twice a night for three nights, David T. Little’s ensemble Newspeak will be playing the music and accompanying choreography from Rebecca Lazier. Lazier discovered the music five years ago, and although she wasn’t sure at first if it was something that would support choreography, it stuck in her head. But she began to find ways to articulate the score, then saw Newspeak give a performance that she told me was “the greatest I ever heard.” Little saw a version of her choreography in a performance at Princeton, and the collaboration was on.

Lazier appreciates how the power of the music is untempered by an explicit message about how we are supposed to think and react – she’s in tune with Rzewski’s humanism. She explores the contrast between interior and exterior, dark and light, isolation and the possibility of companionship. She also has an intriguingly counterintuitive take on “Attica,” which is almost a pastorale in contrast to “Coming Together,” with dancing that will be “very big, very move-y, highly structured, repetitive, almost fugue state of dance that just keeps going and going.

“The really tricky arch choreographically” is when the gradually building call to action of “Coming Together” stops at the point of highest intensity and just before one might imagine the riot beings. “We do call it ‘the riot,’ where we are throwing each other down and being interrupted as we are throwing each other. We thought about how could it be a visual explosion that you can’t keep track of, where your eye has to pull back to see the whole picture.” Musically, “Attica” unwinds that tension slowly and tragically. Lazier thinks of this as the experience of being haunted by memories that will intrude at any time or place. “The idea of how you can’t keep track of when you’ll remember something, how you can’t choose when it will come at you, there’s a walking pattern built into [the choreographer], and they’re eventually walking and running around the audience, and then it slowly falls apart.” This impressed me in conversation as a surprising and fascinating contrast between the possibility and effect of music and choreography. Music is order and coherence of some kind, even chaos and dissipation have to be expressed through a pattern of notes that happens intrinsically and irrevocably in time. Rzewski’s greatness as a political artist is that he is a composer and thinks like one, thinks how to put the notes together to produce the coherent result, rather than how to set a statement or a slogan to music. Choreography also takes place in time, but it also takes place in the body, and we intuitively know when a body is under control and when it isn’t, there is nothing abstract like sound the mediate the experience.

Rzewski has spoken about his desire to convey emotional resonance, and Lazier hears and feels that. The collaboration between this music and dance promises an overwhelming intensity, a state where the power might be closer to totalitarian propaganda than the usual experience of a night out to the dance. But with shit so fucked up, with so much bullshit, why should the power be held only by the Man? Tickets are available here. Come out from underground and see it.

Coming Together/Attica
Thursday, June 13 at 7:00 and 9:00pm
Friday, June 14 at 7:30 and 9:30 pm
Saturday, June 15 at 7:30 and 9:30 pm
@ The Invisible Dog Art Center
51 Bergen Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11 201

One Comment

on “Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit
One Comment on “Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit
  1. dance with literal connections to text, i.e. illustrating the text is quite usual, you can see it outside every day. cage and cunningham had the right idea to separate the two and let them exist together ad hoc.

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