Tag Archives: Meredith Monk

The Art of Intention

As a presenter of ephemeral art, we talk a lot about “purposeful intent,” and how it is the engine that drives our mission.

We started 2013 with that mission in full effect and have also been fortunate to spend this New Year surrounded by the purposeful intent of some truly astonishing artists.

Cheek by Jowl’s early-January performances of a 400-year-old and yet still utterly shocking work of English drama illuminated just how powerful intention can be. It is companies like Cheek by Jowl who keep ancient words and thoughts and language very much alive and give them shape and form. Classic theater texts like John Ford’s would not live on the way they do without the purposeful intent of artists like the performers, directors and crew of companies like Cheek by Jowl and we were honored to host the final performances of the ever-controversial “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.”

Avant-pop violinist Amadeus Leopold brought us a fascinatingly purposeful look at his own highly theatrical approach to classical music. In an oddly compelling blend of bondage gear and blood capsules, he confessed to “the murder of Hahn-Bin,” rising anew as the one-and-only Amadeus Leopold and treated us to a recital that straddled virtuosic skill and highly intentional imagery.Just two weeks ago, a tiny but by no means diminutive, force of nature blew through our lives as Meredith Monk and her acclaimed vocal ensemble prepared for the world premiere of her “On Behalf of Nature.” As the name implies, this deep, profound and meditative piece was incredibly purpose-driven. It is not in Monk’s nature to outright preach or create a work of abject activism. But there was a wistful sadness, and an elegiac longing in the intricately staged theatrical moments of “On Behalf of Nature,” deftly woven into the beautiful vocal and instrumental compositions. We were meant to leave that space ruminating on our own interpretation of our place in nature, our power as humans to either destroy or preserve it, our responsibility to it and to ourselves.

Leading up to the performances, Meredith re-visited the work she began with students last spring as CAP UCLA’s first resident artist, working with them to craft a subtle and highly-individualized pre-show installation that those students (and a few art-loving non-students!) performed in the courtyard of the Freud Playhouse prior to every showing of “On Behalf of Nature.” It was simultaneously conspicuous and understated in a way only Meredith could create and it set an incredibly appropriate tone for the audience before they even entered the theater.

Watching these students interact with Meredith Monk in those days before the performances, it was clear that part of her purpose as an artist is to pass along elements of her craft to a new generation, and it is clearly something that will echo long into their futures. These students and members of our campus community quite literally, as they rehearsed in uncharacteristically frigid Los Angeles temperatures, warmed to Meredith like moths to a flame.

I watched her sit within a circle of them as they rehearsed a brief vocal refrain, turning her head from one to another, smiling with approval and almost, it seemed to me, in blessing.

Meredith Monk performing “On Behalf of Nature” Freud Playhouse Jan. 18-20

It was a beautiful moment to witness and a beautiful one for the students involved to experience. But you don’t have to take it from me. Read first-hand from one student-participant’s perspective.

Just last weekend we were incredibly proud to be a home-away-from-home for Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, in the company’s first visit to Los Angeles. Their truly compelling and uniquely crafted original work “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich” was moving and stimulating as it challenged us to consider who has the right to tell a story and how.

These tireless storytellers approach the world from a different point of view. As performers with intellectual disabilities, their worldview often comes from a place of marginalization, and almost always from a sense of “otherness.” The actors and creators here last week were incredibly generous with our audience and our community, sharing their work and insight into their creative process with high school students from across Los Angeles, with students on this campus, and with our own audience Saturday night in a candid Q&A session. We were enthralled company’s bold creativity and intentional mission to set askew our own notions of power, stories and art itself.

It serves us to be intentionally set off our axis once in a while, I think. And many of our visiting artists did that in varied ways this month.

I will wind this long-windedness up with a closing thought about this Friday night, and a bit of a challenge.

Coming up Feb 1, is a concert from “the Hendrix of the Sahara,” Vieux Farka Touré who will perform in tribute to his legendary father Ali Farka Touré. LA’s own afrobeat collective Fool’s Gold opens the show.

Typically this would be just another amazing Royce Hall music moment from another amazing musician.
But, this Friday night serves another purpose–to shine a spotlight on the heartbreaking situation in Ali and Vieux’s homeland of Mali, where the rich culture of music and art came under attack by Islamic fundamentalists.

It’s an unfathomable situation, and one that has only recently started to improve, slowly. Still, it remains somewhat under the radar in U.S. media coverage and general public attention. But Mali matters.

Mali and its rich musical history matters to Fools Gold. The group has been greatly inspired by the artists and music from this part of the world, and is looking to help affected people in the area. They have partnered with an organization called African Sky, which sends humanitarian aid to Mali.

Come to Royce Hall Friday night, hear some amazing music both directly from and inspired by Mali, and check out the limited-edition T-shirts designed by the mission-driven design collective
Upperatus, which will be on sale at the Fool’s Gold merch table. Proceeds from the sale of these T-shirts will go to African Sky.

Many thanks to all of you who joined us for a January filled with artistic riches. And there is so much more to come. We hope to see you soon!

Meredith Monk: A Spirit of Renewal

The beginning of a new year is always accompanied by a sense of reflection and renewal, themes that are very much at play in the forthcoming world premiere (Jan 18-20) of Meredith Monk’s newest work, “On Behalf of Nature.”

We’re especially proud to play host to the ever-evolving Meredith Monk as she is one of our resident artists this season. Meredith generously arrives early next week to begin working with students on yet another new original work that they will perform in the Freud Playhouse courtyard prior to each performance of “On Behalf of Nature.”


Though she recently turned 70, Meredith also remains a tireless explorer of her own craft. “On Behalf of Nature” is an exploration that builds on compositional themes she set last year during the creation of “Realm Variations,” a piece originally commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony.

Reflecting on the difference between “On Behalf of Nature” and her earlier, more-theatrical work such as “Education of the Girl Child,” Meredith says that her continuing evolution as a composer has had a great impact on the resulting work she creates.

“As I’ve gotten older my form is to the bone,” she describes. “I go to essentializing. It seems more simple but it’s a very very complicated process, and the result is very pure.

“My music has developed so much, it has become more complex,” she says. “Once that element has become complex, some of the other elements become less complex.”

Monk says “On Behalf of Nature” is an elegiac “meditation on the fragility of nature,” not set in any one particular landscape.

“I think almost any piece I’ve ever done is about nature,” she said. “I’m evoking the mystery and the wonder in the processes and workings of nature and the inner structure of nature, and the mystery and wonder and the beauty of what we take for granted.”

The piece is purposefully abstract, as is natural to Monk’s aesthetic and process, and audience members are meant to make their own interpretations, Monk says. It’s not an activist piece, but in its own subtle way, it is certainly meant to inspire eco-conscious thought, a purpose that Monk says also drove elements of its creation.

Monk imbued the entire creative process of On Behalf of Nature with a spirit of re-using, rediscovering, transforming and re-imagining something new from something already in existence.

Two sections of “On Behalf of Nature” are from “Realm Variations” but re-orchestrated for Monk’s ensemble of six vocalists and three instrumentalists. (“Realm” was created for six singers and seven instrumentalists).

Monk said she also revisited old notebooks from the 1990s, extracting elements and phrases that would become wholly new pieces. For video in “On Behalf of Nature,” Monk used elements of footage from her 1998 film “Book of Days, ” re-cutting and adding new imagery.

In creating the costume design for the piece, Monk’s longtime collaborator Yoshio Yabara worked with a collection of previously worn items the performers brought in from their wardrobes. The result is some “really wild creations,” Monk says.

(Side note: A couple of years ago Yoshio was inspired to create a series of cleverly minimalistic Meredith Monk puppets).

Next weekend’s performances constitute the birth of “On Behalf of Nature,” but Monk says she fully expects the work to continue to grow and evolve.

“The beautiful thing about live performance is it’s a very process-oriented thing,” she says. “It’s always an organic process. This piece is extremely organic in the structure, the music. I tried to follow that and not be afraid of that.”