“Einstein on the Beach,” composed by Philip Glass and designed by Robert Wilson, has been described as the “Rite of Spring” of our time; a wildly radical departure from what went before. In its time, Stravinsky’s rhythmically challenging, dissonant score, paired with Sergei Diaghilev’s harshly anti-balletic costumes and dance steps, caused a riot on opening night and changed the course of traditional music and dance from that day forward.
Presented first in Europe then in New York in 1976, “Einstein on the Beach” didn’t provoke a riot, but it did mark a definitive break between the existing school of contemporary composition that disdained tonality and the kind of melodic, trance-like, repetitive lines and rhythms that run through Glass’ music. Then-chief music critic for the Los Angeles Times Martin Bernheimer — not a fan — described it as “Xeroxed arpeggios.”
Glass’ work became the beacon for a new avant garde era in music and inspired a generation of artists, including choreographers, composers and even “avant pop” art-rock stars like David Byrne.
Perhaps the most renowned production of “Einstein on the Beach” took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984. It toured again internationally through eight cities in 1992.
“Einstein” has never been seen in Los Angeles. For three performances only, LA Opera and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance are presenting the final incarnation of a monumental touring production, in its five-hour entirety. If ever there was a Los Angeles cultural milestone, this is it.
As the Jewish Journal Los Angeles reported, “Einstein on the Beach” requires a touring company of 65 people, including a design team, a touring technical crew, the Lucinda Childs Dance Company, features actors who are not opera singers, as well as the Philip Glass Ensemble and a virtuoso solo violinist. It could be decades before another production is mounted, and this may be the last North American revival featuring the original collaborators, Wilson, Glass and choreographer Lucinda Childs, all of whom are now in their 70s.
There’s no narrative plot. Einstein, the man, the scientist, the musician, the humanitarian, whose theories made the atomic bomb possible, is an inspirational figure to Glass. The tension of nuclear annihilation underpins the work. Wilson’s aesthetic is inspired by Japanese theatre and abstraction and his set and lighting designs are dramatic, stark, poetic and evocative.
This is an opera experience unlike any other. There are no intermissions, but don’t worry, you’re welcome to wander in and out at will. In fact, it’s expected.
There are just a few seats left for “Einstein on the Beach” so get them quickly; performances take place Oct. 11, 12 and 13, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Visit www.laopera.com or call (213) 972-8001.
The Spanish version
King Henry VIII, he of the six wives and subject of Shakespearean drama, married Catherine of Aragon, a member of Spanish royalty. After 20 years of marriage, the very Catholic Catherine produced only a daughter, leaving Henry without the male heir he expected.
Henry took to his bed the somewhat notorious Anne Boleyn, who was serving as a maid of honor to Queen Catherine. He broke with the church to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. (Known as Anne of the thousand days, she was executed after also failing to produce a son).
The story outraged the Spaniards and it’s always been told from the perspective of the English. But now comes Rakatá, the Madrid-based classical theatre company noted for productions of Spanish Golden Age works, who have reworked “Henry VIII” to tell the story from the Spanish point of view, even though it is still set in the English court, as in Shakespeare’s original.
Rakatá’s “Henry VIII” makes its U.S. debut beginning tonight, Sept. 26, through Sunday, five performances only, and opens the sixth season of The Broad Stage here in Santa Monica.
“Henry VIII” is performed in Spanish with English subtitles, and when the production appeared at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, it was both a popular and critical hit, described by The Guardian UK as “a supremely accomplished retelling of this most notorious episode in English history.”
Tomorrow night’s performance includes a pre-show reception. This is a one-act, no intermission production, that runs one hour and 45 minutes. For more information call (310) 434-4200 or visit http://thebroadstage.com/enrique-viii.
In the 1990s, I went to London and was blown away by a production by Theatre de Complicite. They defied gravity, climbing sideways up walls and recreating the dream world conjured by the Polish Jewish writer, Bruno Schulz, whose “Street of Crocodiles” was a phantasmagoric memoir of his childhood. Considered one of the best Polish writers between the two wars, he was killed by the Nazis in 1942.
Co-produced by Complicite, Setagaya Public Theatre, Tokyo and the Barbican, London, the company is at UCLA tonight through Sunday only, and brings to life a Japanese story about the mysterious world of “Shun-kin,” a Japanese shamisen (stringed instrument) player, and her dutiful servant, Sasuke.
A tale of devotion, passion and power, where beauty is unforgiving and love is blinding, this powerful Japanese cast, including film actress Eri Fukatsu and celebrated actor Yoshi Oida, is based on texts of author Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, who examined the sequestered lives of women in pre-modern Japanese society. He compared them to the traditional bunraku puppets, which were designed mainly in the shape of a long kimono; only a head, feet and hands animate them. The suggestion, said Tanizaki, was that “for a woman who lived in the dark it was enough if she had a faint, white face. A full body was unnecessary.”
Through intricately executed puppetry and Complicite’s inimitable physical style, “Shun-kin” explores the connections between beauty and violence, amplified by the singular craftsmanship of the company’s long-running exploration of theatrical animation.
Performances take place at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse tonight through Sunday; tickets at http://cap.ucla.edu, or by phone at (310) 825-2101.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.