by John Stoehr
John Kennedy must have a thing for stillness. For inner peace. For serenity. Many of the new works in his series Music in Time (the last of which is Tuesday at 5 p.m.) have reflected a longing for being in the moment, for "living in the sound," as he said of Somei Satoh's Glimmering Darkness.
Glimmering Darkness, for string ensemble, is a study in pace and mindfulness. "He has written some of the slowest music in the world," Kennedy said. "It gives you the opportunity to experience the sound from the inside." Indeed, the piece is so slow, and at times so lush in its layers, that it compels you to be conscious of the very vibrations of the sound, not just the pulse of tempo, but the pulse of life.
I was reminded of the dance recital the week before by Shantala Shivalingappa, the classical Indian dancer. Her performance was rife with religious sentiment, with each segment devoted to a god — such as the elephant-headed Ganesh and the many-armed Shiva, god of dance — but also to the Ohm, the eternal vibration of the universe, the essence of being, the source of life for us all, Shivalingappa said.
She would have a lot to say to Satoh and to the creator of another work of glimmering darkness. Kija Saariaho's Six Japanese Gardens features ambiance sounds recorded by the composer in gardens in the Kyoto. Formless and atmospheric, these found sounds are played along with a solo percussionist, in this case the excellent David Tolen, who uses an array of instruments: triangles, chimes, timpani, wood block, and many more. Like Sotah and Shivalingappa, Saariaho offers a moment in which to reflect, to push aside consciousness, to consider the essence of nothingness, the fullness of emptiness.
Emptiness plays a part in Monkey: Journey to the West (which has yet another show added to its very long run). The Monkey King is powerful and playful and roguish, but he's mortal. He is empty. So he seeks out the Taoist master Subodhi, who is chanting a string of koans, or statements designed to defy logic but access intuition, things like "formless is form, the real is the non-real, the non non-real is the real," and stuff like that. Subodhi, after teaching monkey how to fly on a cloud, renames him "Monkey with the Realization of Emptiness."
My favorite moment of Zen during the Spoleto Festival thus far has come from a California girl named Donna Uchizono. Her modern dance company performed two dances over the weekend — State of Heads and Low. The former is like Satoh's Glimmering Darkness, but instead of getting inside the sound, it gave us the opportunity to feel the essence of the space around us, the three dimensions that we live in every day but never allow to percolate to the level of consciousness.
State of Heads reduces dance to an Einsteinian equation. Sound and movement become elements. Sounds we usually ignore — the buzz of a florescent light, the drip of a leaky faucet, the grinding of gears — come to the fore. Movement becomes angular and measured and deliberate. The trio of dancers emulate marionettes. Their animus seems derived from elsewhere. Moving a few inches takes a minutes. Moving across the floor takes the even more time.
It's like the language of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings — "hello" takes as long to say as a novel does to write. With this kind of attention paid to elemental movement and sound, a new level of consciousness is achieved. And there's something eerie about it, something scary and thrilling, too. When a cacophony of sound and movement erupts, State of Heads provides a bracing rush to the senses.
It's the soul's reawakening. Fullness born of emptiness. The non-real has become the real. As Kennedy might say, it's living inside space and time.