Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Long Count

BAM glows at night. Leo Villareal’s ongoing exhibit Stars lights up the arched windows in the evening and threatens to kill me: whenever I bike past it on my way home from work I have trouble looking away from it and bringing my eyes back on the road.

Last night, what was going on inside at the Gilman Opera House matched the façade.

Art moves. As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t move, it’s not art. And I’m not talking about bikes here.

Whether you understand what is in front of you or not, it is art’s ability to stir deep emotions that makes it art as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure there are those who would be able to take apart The Long Count and analyze its metaphors, explain its use of symbols, and understand the message within.

I’m not one of those. I can’t say I understood what all that was about, but when I left my body was still vibrating with the echoes of what had gone on inside.

The stage was framed by two diamond cut screens set at an angle, joined by an equilateral triangle. When the performance started, images were projected on the screen like a roving kaleidoscope being held against a dreamscape: from wheat fields, to images of vaguely industrial settings, to color splotches that seemed to react to the sound, to ink drawings that reminded me of Van Gogh abstractions.

And the music! Take a twelve-piece orchestra, mix it with a good dose of The National, sprinkle it with great female vocalists and bake it in glowing images in front of a rapt audience for 70 minutes.

String instruments have always gotten to me. It’s not only the sound. When the bow goes across the strings, I can feel it move across my chest, catching and pulling.

About midway through, there was a fast cello solo that was followed by a plucked viola. Its intensity was making it difficult for me to breathe. There was a hand violenty squeezing my heart and I wanted to run, jump, but I was trapped in a polite opera chair. Unable to take it any longer, I pulled my eyes from the musicians and looked up. On the screen above them, yellow exploding shards were speeding out of the stage and washing over us.

When it was all over, the audience burst into a standing ovation.

As we were leaving, I could feel my bag vibrating, but it wasn’t the buzzing of the phone. I asked my friend to hold it for me, but it wasn’t the bag. I stood still outside BAM and I could feel a faint but discernible vibration – and extended hum not only in my arm but through most of my body.

It was the best show I have seen in a long time: I cried, I bobbed in my chair to great music, I gasped, and when it was done I was exhausted by its beauty.

But it wasn’t for everyone: two people in the front row left early into on. There was a mother and son team sitting on my left. He fell asleep. She was covering her ears.

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