The Silk Road Project reached U.C., Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall
April 19-28, 2002
I don't know what kind of publicity Yo-Yo Ma's extensive project has generated in Europe or even beyond the San Francisco Bay Area, But it struck a chord. For those of us musically attuned to non-Western music and familiar with art history emerging from this complex series of routes between China and Inner Asia; between India and Inner Asia and between the Middle East and Inner Asia it was unallowed joy. Yo-Yo Ma's project preceeded the American military presence in Afghanistan, where it seems now the U.S. looks at terrorism these days as a barrier to access to the oil rich basin of the Taklamakhan Desert.
That aside, for those lucky enough to procure tickets, there was a surfeit of riches to be heard. Lectures on the Silk Road and the Music of the Silk Road April 22 and 23 were free to the public, and some of the best Asian scholars in the area were joined by The Whitfields, deeply involved in The International Silk Road Project. Susan Whitfield at The British Museum is directing a collaborative effort to make the esoterica retrieved by Sir Aurel Stein available on the Web. She envisions any of the national centers harboring these manuscripts will be involved.
Presumably this may include dance styles of Inner Asia
in the year 1000 C.E.
Meanwhile, Mark Morris presented a revival of his 1995 work premiered in Berkeley, World Power, using gamelan music set by composer Lou Harrison and titled " In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel" and "In Honor of Mark Twain" from "Homage to Pacific".
Susan Ruddie's costumes are a cross between Indonesian and Chinese laborers jackets and shortened trousers, dark and faintly reminiscent of Mao wear.
This is an enchanting if lengthy work, where Morris' quick eye has picked up on shoulder inflections, the gestures of head and hand, the lateral movement of the body in a steady demi-plie in a la seconde. Every once and a while a flicking emphasis of an invisible scarf draped in front of a Javanese or Balinese actor-dancer was clearly depicted. The flavor and frame of reference is unmistakable, and I felt a rush of affection for Morris' accomplishment and his keen ear for music.
Like Harrison, Morris has a taste for exposing foibles and the
quotation of Mark Twain forming the vocal text is based on Twain's eloquent protests against the Spanish American War and the American occupation of the Philippines.
I hope I don't have to wait another 7 years to see the work again.
The second piece Kolam was danced to a score commissioned by The Silk Road Project, including Hussain with Yo Yo Ma, a base and a piano. The word Kolam refers to the South Indian practice of daily threshold adornment with rice flour and often flowers in traditional Hindu homes, the designs often special to the particular family. Simple or elaborate they are repeated on a daily basis, even an act of meditation by the mistress of the household or the individual designated to accomplish the design.
Katherine McDowell's costumes evoke the domestic garments of the Indian woman, baggy trousers and a choli, and for the men a dhoti like garment the chest remaining bare.
Morris has taken yoga postures and intertwined them with floor patterns suggesting the execution of the daily threshold design. He exaggerates some gestures of yoga unnecessarily, but every once in a while the choreography launches off into an approximation of Bharata Natyam movement either in the swing of the arms, the use of ankle bells,or the forward-back patterns of the Varnam, the most complicated dance of any traditional Bharata
Natyam recital. Morris' power of suggestion is uncanny. If he never carries us over the threshold of the home or the temple,
limiting the salutations to the dawn and the dailyness,he manages
to Hussain's intriguing score, to suggest the multiplicity of life activities in an Indian town. He decorates the stage beautifully with the movement, but Morris does stop at that threshold. Hussain manages to get very sarangi-like sounds with
cello and base, and even in unusual forms of percussion (Hussain did not limit himself to his usual tabla, but employed other percussive instruments) the pulse of a traditional Indian life style was suggested.
If I had the opportunity I'd like to explore Morris' Kolam threshold designs several times.
I was so overwhelmed by the first two numbers that the fall premiere piece "V", reviewed by Joan Acocella in the March, 2002 New Yorker just passed me by. Manhatten isn't Inner Asia and I came to see Inner Asia.
There was an incredible list of credits. Many of the 500 best companies were solicited, obviously donated and made their way on to the patron list. Yo You Ma was personally soliciting donations for the new East Asian Library with expensive seats. As Leiws Lancaster reminded the audience that Buddhism in Western China and along the Silk Road was supported and supplied with life necessities by traveling merchants. This was a mutual dependency
beyond the constraints of Brahmin based hierarchy.
If either World Power or Kolam appear in British theaters, a ticket would be wholly justified.