Antonin Artaud’s drawings mesmerize you. Astonishingly, at the City Opera, one of them: La Machine de l’être – the Machine of Being – is presented in a breathtaking ten-minute scene. All the bodies on stage are draped entirely in black, and it is the job of the two persons who appear in each of the three monodramas to undrape them as needed: a man in red, a singer in black, and a man levitating above the stage. No text, no plot, but a sort of building anxiety through the three acts of the music by John Zorn, composed in the year 2000.
In Schoenberg’s Erwartung, from 1909, the anxiety is that of the woman in the forest, who loves and hates the man recumbent on the floor of the stage, and it is communicated to the audience throughout the 30 minutes of the presentation.
But REAL anxiety shows through Morton Feldman’s brilliant piece of 1976, “Neither,” on a libretto by Samuel Beckett, beginning with shadows inner and outer, making its way “from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither” and ending with an ultra Beckettian lament – or then recognition:
then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither
Quite a lot of business: strobe lights, appearing and disappearing figures, cubes descending from the ceiling and – touchingly, if oddly – on the horizon, a small house.
Unspeakable, yes, but the music comes through as doing its own saying. Not that we could figure out or pass on, were we asked to elucidate. The light, that unfading light, takes us far, our self on the way on the unself. Beckett’s negatives work with no busyness to them, they simply are.