“It’s John Cage [audible sigh] reading random syllables for over an hour,” the long-suffering husband complains to to his wife.
“How avant-garde is this?” the woman behind me asks her friend.
So began my evening at The Joyce Theater last night. I knew full well what I was getting myself into. I attended Ballet Preljocaj’s Empty moves performance at BAM in 2010 (parts I & II). I am also a big fan of John Cage, and I have no illusions about what it can be like to experience some of his experiments in sound first hand. (Case in point was Atlas Eclipticalis and Winter Music performed simultaneously by the S.E.M. Ensemble with Ursula Oppens and Joseph Kubera in 2012 at Carnegie Hall. Half of the fun was watching the audience members depart in astonished irritation!) Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj set Empty moves to a live recording of Empty Words by John Cage in Milan in 1977, where he calmly and steadfastly read random phonemes to an increasingly irate and belligerent crowd. This evening at The Joyce, the audience sat through very close to two hours of that excruciating soundtrack — with no intermission — while four incredible members of Ballet Preljocaj danced non-stop through parts I, II, & III. Let me rephrase that: four unbelievably talented dancers made the most exquisite, athletic, perfectly aligned, joyful moves for almost two hours straight! There were the groupings, the pairings, the yoga moves, the rag doll, the dead weight, the tumbling stunts, the free fall, the twitch — the whole arsenal of modern dance moves — but with a twist. Somehow these dancers infused every move with a joie de vivre and a quirky groove all their own. And they maintained their perfect form, energy, and sense of humor the whole time. It was impressive. (Kudos to dancers Nuriya Nagimova, Yurié Tsugawa, Fabrizio Clemente, and Baptiste Coissieu.) As for the audience? Some of us sat in yogic calm, stoicly determined to pay close attention for the duration. Others could barely sit still. Some muttered to their companions. Meaningful glances were exchanged. Some checked their programs, as if searching for an explanation that might ease their discomfort. Many checked the time. Several made a hasty exit. It was that interminable soundtrack, you see. John Cage would have been proud.