BAM’s Harvey Theater always feels like a mammoth work in progress. Walls to the larger opera house are stripped away. How artists fill the space depends on their ingenuity.
Cellular Songs is Meredith Monk’s 11th production at BAM. Her earlier productions included Atlas and Quarry in 1976. With two long braids of brown hair standing near five feet tall, Monk has the calmest presence. In Cellular Songs, quick breath creates pulsing tones that sustain and fill the Harvey. The repetition is everything. The human voice has the power to move oceans and rivers, but the sound of Meredith Monk is so light and clear. With Cellular Songs, Monk attempts to explore the “fundamental units of life and its relation to the universe.” The Vocal Ensemble, pitch-perfect, senses their range and captures space/time in sound, while solidifying their practice.
Those who like to combine pop culture with classical practice might find something of a younger Alanis Morissette in Meredith Monk. Drawing her strength from within, she intones. Silence is as important as the sound, as the tone dips and builds. Monk sings, “Oh, I’m a thinking woman, I’m a thinking woman.” She is in the moment, present, and recognized.
The artist who is Meredith Monk creates a space for larger ensemble participation. Monk has an extraordinarily long career that includes composition, dance, and filmmaking. However, the bulk of this show involves a cast of five women. Dressed completely in white jumpsuits, they gather slowly. The sound and motion work is perfected over time. Walking through space is a rhythmic art.
Cellular Songs features a dynamic composition, that reinterprets the thematic material of replication and division. Amoeba-like forms only present a few times, with the movement that is memorable and only sometimes circular. Pure vocal energy has a cleansing, refreshing feeling; images reinforce the concept. The Costume Design and Scenography by Yoshio Yabara provide a clean space in a precarious, interconnected world that would overtake us. It’s a spiritual journey that is thoughtful and inclusive of harsher times. Solos by Ellen Fisher, Jo Stewart, and Meredith Monk are departures, chances to embrace one’s individuality in the larger practice pattern.
Layered in–with video–are moving hands on all sides. Fluttering and healing, they create a vine-like structure. The images repeat at the end of the show, and hands appear in the background. Warm, towering buildings stand in juxtaposition to the white bursts of light. Katherine Freer’s projections on the floor are as powerful as those on the back wall. Piano and violin add to the a capella singing, creating a complete experience that is not overwhelming. Monk’s team, with Lighting Design by Joe Levasseur and Sound Design by Eli Walker, includes earth tones that soften the space.
At the end of the piece, a core ensemble expands to include more dancers. They are members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Moving in time, finding three areas on the stage, they sleep. A quieter journey begins.
Cellular Songs played at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater, located at 651 Fulton Street, until March 18.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.