New York, NY —?A rose is a rose is a rose,? Gertrude Stein assures us, but what is an opera, or a dance, or a song? Meredith Monk, featured composer at the Fifth Annual Lincoln Center Festival, describes her wordless pieces as explorations, through vocal texture, of characters, landscapes, and events. Like Gotham Lullaby, they are more shamanistic evocations than narrative declarations, performed with stylized movements and expressions that remind us that this singer/composer/choreographer is a one-woman synthesis of form.But she is not alone. The diverse and challenging works presented by the Festival suggest that the lines between art forms is blurring everywhere, with media becoming a dominant element in many.VOX: "We are dealing, for the most part, with artists who are at some kind of cutting edge, artists who are pushing some kind of boundary. Certainly the boundary between disciplines is one that many artists want to investigate, and many artists don?t wish to be defined merely by dance, or by theatre."NARR: Festival director Nigel Redden.VOX (Nigel Redden continues) "I think that at the moment, many artists are concerned about history-personal history, or a longer sense of history-to some extent I think because of the millennium; it became a time to think about larger issues of where one fits in."NARR: The most ambitious use of media and technology to explore questions of history could be seen in Writing to Vermeer, an opera conceived by filmmaker Peter Greenaway, with a score by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, and directed by Saskia Bodeke with Greenaway.MUS: Excerpt from Writing to VermeerNARR: Intrigued by the letters that appear in Vermeer?s luminous and serene portraits of women, Greenaway imagined a context for them: they are written to, or received from, the artist while he is away authenticating paintings at The Hague, and the women are his wife, Catharina Bolnes, his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and a painters? model, Saskia de Vries, who is a composite character.MUS: Excerpt from Writing to VermeerNARR: The year is 1672, a disastrous one for Holland, and against the quotidian text of the letters, with their details of marriage, children, and pigment, we see played out the savage tableau of political unrest, economic failure, and war. The characters of the three women are multiplied until a corps of eighteen women comes to represent, not only different aspects-personal and symbolic-of the trio, but also society itself. VOX: (Nigel Redden continues) "Writing to Vermeer was a technological wonder. We not only had 7,000 gallons of water pouring on the stage, but also a series of six screens, with various images on them. And they worked extraordinarily well together, so that at a certain point you would have live performers in between different projected images, so that you could see on a scrim all the way downstage one image, then you would see the live performers, and then there might be another screen sort of mid-stage, and then all the way upstage, a different set of images, and the performers in between would seem as if they were part of a battle, for example; you got a sense of the live actors being very much part of the film. And I think it?s a metaphor for the way we live our own lives, and that is that often we are more concerned with the issues that confront us on a day-to-day basis just in living our lives, rather than the larger issues."MUS: Excerpt from Writing to VermeerNARR: Andriessen, in a program note, likened this process to providing "?windows? that break into the domesticity and serenity of Vermeer?s home life." For Greenaway, a culture?s technology becomes part of its language, and he and Bodeke have drawn on the Dutch system of canals, and the country?s ruthless practice of flooding of its own lands to repel invasion, to create an apocalyptic vision.NARR: Other works in the Festival also use film, video and eclectic sound scores to expand their worlds. Wim Vandekeybus and David Bryne collaborated on In Spite of Wishing and Wanting, which inserts into its propulsive dance groups intermittent soliloquies and two films, based on stories by Julio Cortazar, which act as instructive fables about the roles and desires of men. And in Judith Jamison?s mysterious new work Double Exposure, a media collage projected on two 30-foot screens casts the dancers? bodies in intimate relief, making them part of the molten dreamscape they inhabit. As a choreographer she found this phenomenon fascinating, as it allowed her-and us-to see the dancers? in extraordinary detail, to make them both private and public.But is this new, this emphasis on effect, multiplicity, a self-conscious leaving of the theatrical frame? Consider this, written by Bauhaus contemporary Oskar Schlemmer, who directed the Bauhaus Workshop Theatre from 1923-29."Total theatre must be an artistic creation, an organic set of bundles of relationships between light, space, surface, movement, sound and human being with all possible variations and combinations of those diverse elements."NARR: Or this observation in a memoir of impresario Max Reinhardt by his son Gottfried:"To cater to the primeval desire for spectacle in man?on a high literary level seemed a sacrilege to the advocates of twentieth-century progress. Reinhardt, on the other hand, felt that?the revolutionary undercurrent of the age should make itself felt not only in the realm of ideas, but in freeing the theatre of obsolete partitions, restrictions, and wonted comforts"NARR: Finally, there is Antoine Artaud:"What we wish to do is to break with the theatre considered as a distinct genre, and bring up to date that old idea, never truly realized, of the integrated spectacle."VOX: "These combinations, these interdisciplinary performances, have happened since theatre began."NARR: Peter Wallace, director of the theatre program at Eugene Lang College of the New School, observes that such elements date even farther back:VOX: (Peter Wallace continues) "Gladiators-in the Roman Coliseum-that was a theatrical event. Where they used technologies-huge engineering feats, and new kinds of engineering, that was created to convey a huge spectacle, where they would have thousands of people participating."NARR: Spectacle with a purpose is what Nigel Redden believes the Lincoln Center Festival is all about.VOX: "I don?t think we ever get away from spectacles. Clearly spectacles have been a necessary part of the kind of social discourse that creates theatre and creates religion. I hope that the sort of spectacles we put on at a festival like this have more substance to them than simply a kind of visual fascination."SFX: Excerpt from Ghostcatching.NARR: Perhaps no one combines innovation and moral content more vividly than dancer Bill T. Jones, whose transcendent autobiographical piece The Breathing Show includes bold asides to the audience-"I?m prone to saying what?s on my mind," he declared in a Festival symposium earlier in the week-an intricate solo performed to a stream-of-consciousness monologue, and two films, a "portrait" of his garden by Abraham Ravett, and computer-generated Ghostcatching, created by Jones with media artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar, which uses an image of Jones? own body.So for the artists of the Lincoln Center Festival, "time stands still" as Peter Greenaway puts it, faceted selves emerge, and through the windows they slash in the present, we can see right back to the dawn of theatre.MUSIC: Instrumental excerpt from Gotham Lullaby.For WNYC, this is Sarah Montague.
NOTE: In a related context, it is interesting to note that the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, part of the research collections of the New York Public Library, will reopen in Spring 2001 with a decentralized reading room instead of the former partitioning of the holdings into separate collections for dance, theatre, and music. William Walker, Director of the Research Libraries, says that the decision was made partly in response to the confluence of forms, and because users want simultaneous access. Now, he observes, someone researching Merce Cunningham (whose archives have been donated to the Library), can find him right next to John Cage, and see that vital collaboration represented clearly.