Laurie Anderson performs Delusion at Usine C


On Tuesday night I went to Usine C to see Laurie Anderson perform Delusion. It occurred to me as I was heading over there that I had never seen a bad performance at Usine C. Although afterward I realized that in fact while most of the shows I have seen at Usine C have been amazing, there have been some clunkers, not many, but some.

The reason I bring this up, is that I’ve never really been a big fan of Laurie Anderson. I saw her perform once in the 1980s and it didn’t really impress me. So I was kind of hoping that the venue would have a strong influence on her, or on my impression of her performance.

Unfortunately whatever power Usine C had previously had over performances there, wasn’t working on Tuesday. In a nutshell Ms. Anderson told some stories that wandered all over the place while a bunch of videos played around (and once on) her. Occasionally picked up her fiddle and sawed away at it aimlessly.

When I was transcribing my notes, I was very surprised to discover that for the most part I had not written down anything about the actual content of her stories. I had notes about the stage (16 lights scattered about) notes about the videos (looks like Kentridge) notes to myself (don’t forget to buy milk) but not an awful lot on what she said.

And two days after seeing her, I don’t really remember much either. You could make the point that the ephemerality was intentional, but on the other hand you could also make the point that she was just making a lot of hot air move through space. If there was some unifying theme to what she said, I would have to venture a guess that it was about mortality.

Somewhere at the beginning she quotes from the sermon in Moby Dick: “for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?” Although the whole quote is

O Father!- chiefly known to me by Thy rod- mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

And then somewhere towards the end she talks about three types of dying where she quotes David Eagleman: “you die three times, once when your heart stops, again when your body is buried or cremated, and then the last time someone says your name.

In between there’s some Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, some Halldór Laxness and some Søren Kierkegaard. (Thank god for wikipedia, doing research for this review wasn’t easy!)

Contrary to what was written in the Gazette, there were French surtitles. I found this very strange. Ms. Anderson obviously pays particular attention to her phrasing, breath and the timing of her speeches. By using the surtitles it was possible to read what she was saying before she said it, which ended up lessening the impact of what she said. While I have never gone karaoking, I seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere that there are karaoke machines that time the display of the words, or maybe I just dreamed it, but I definitely think that Ms. Anderson should invest in one of those machines for the next time she decides to use surtitles.

At one point she starts to recite “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and whomever did the translating of her text wasn’t completely bilingual, because they ended up translating it literally.

Scintiller, Scintiller, petite étoile,
Comment je me demande ce que vous êtes.
Au-dessus du monde si haut,
Comme un diamant dans le ciel.

Instead of using the proper French nursery rhyme

Ah ! vous dirai-je, maman,
Ce qui cause mon tourment ?
Depuis que j’ai vu Clitandre,
Me regarder d’un air tendre ;
Mon cœur dit à chaque instant :
« Peut-on vivre sans amant ? »

What can I say about the videos? There were leaves, lots of leaves. Someone taking pictures of a body on the floor (I wrote a note asking if the woman with her back to the camera was Ms. Anderson), a dog’s eye view of a field gone to seed (which enabled me to discover that in fact dogs are not colorblind). The aforementioned animated videos that copped from William Kentridge and some footage from NASA that might have been the Moon, or perhaps Mars, I’m not sure which as I have never visited either. For the most part they did not serve to move the narrative forward, nor was I able to really make any direct connection between the video and the narration (except perhaps for the one of the body on the floor).

I was quite struck by one of the videos which was a simple loop (I think all of them were looped) of a pane of glass with drips of water running down. Just like the windshield of a parked car during a light rain or drizzle. I might have to go and make something like that myself.

At this point I should probably mention something about the music. Ms. Anderson played an electric fiddle. And sometimes pitch shifted her voice. But this review is veering dangerously close to becoming a Laurie Anderson performance, winding all over the place, not really saying anything and feeling self-important, so I should probably wrap it up fairly quickly. Thankfully someone snuck a video camera into a performance she gave in Israel, while it isn’t the same as being there. It can give you a fairly reasonable idea of what the show was like.

Me, I’m just very happy that I didn’t fork out for a plane ticket to see it during the Olympics.

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