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Robert Plant

I call it “squinting”—you will have your own term. You’ve chosen a favorite musician, probably in your teen years, and the relationship grows through awkward phases…Along the way, you find yourself squinting to keep seeing what made you fall in love…In pop music, which is a worse deal for the aging than painting and fiction are, there can be a fair amount of effort involved.

This is the start of Sasha Frere-Jones’ review, Gut Check, of PJ Harvey’s latest release. (And PJ falls into that squinting category for me—some of her music was ecstasy embodied for me.) But when it comes to issues of doing your art and aging, pop music and ballet have to be two of the most youth-centric. Some would say they are youth-centric to a draconian degree.

But as my wise friend Sally Reed reminded me on the occasion of my birthday this week, forms change. It’s a mantra worthy of my studio wall as well as my bathroom mirror. And look at how even the forms of pop music and dance have stretched and morphed. How many aging rockers are touring and making music? It isn’t just superstars like Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCarthy and Bob Dylan—even Robbie Robertson, the Band heartthrob from the 70’s, just released a new album. In the words of Mitchell Stephens, “Once upon a time, these men reinvented what it meant to play rock-and-roll. Is it not possible that they might also be capable of reinventing what it means to be ‘old’ and still playing rock-and-roll? Age has, after all, done them a few favors. To begin with, it has given these fellows, none of whom has ever been saddled with a day job, years of practice. They’re better musicians than they were at 25, and better singers too.”

Another great moment recently on this same theme: Charles Lloyd, jazz veteran at 73, came out of semi-retirement to blow our minds. He recently performed at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge with his latest quartet, now playing with three extraordinary young musicians in their 30s—Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and my favorite all time jazz pianist, Jason Moran.* It was an evening I will never forget.

And then there was the stunning moment at the end of the National Theater’s recent broadcast of Fela! when Bill T. Jones jumped up on stage and danced with the cast, shirtless. Like Mark Morris, Jones continues to engage us with the way his body can move.

All anecdotes worth considering. Yes, forms change. And sometimes what shows up surprises everybody.

Charles Lloyd Quartet

* For a list of my many blog posts about Jason Moran, go here.


Anne Carson and Rashaun Mitchell: Ms. Carson, a poet, and Mr. Mitchell, a dancer and choreographer, collaborated on “Nox” and “Bracko” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. From left, Marcie Munnerlyn, Mr. Mitchell, Carol Dougherty,Ms. Carson, Robert Currie and Kate Gilhuly in “Bracko.” (Photo: Liza Voll)

My admiration for the poet Anne Carson has been intact for some time. (I’ve written about her work here.) But with the recent publication of Nox and her extraordinarily successful category bleed from text only into text and images, I’m even more agog.

But clearly Carson isn’t stopping for too long at that achievement, and she is moving on to cohabit with yet another métier, dance. On Tuesday night at the ICA in Boston, Carson participated in a performance with dancer and choreographer Rashaun Mitchell that is in many ways unable to be categorized. It felt like the fine art equivalent of a mashup, calling up bits and pieces from the traditions of dance, recitation, poetry, incantation, theater, art installation/performance and mystery school.

From a review of the performance by Alastair Macaulay at the New York Times who, like me, was very moved by the event:

Since the poet and critic Anne Carson and the dancer-choreographer Rashaun Mitchell are each exceptional artists, their occasional collaborations — which began in 2004 — would be historically remarkable even if they were artistically barren. But “Bracko” and “Nox,” the two main works in which they have come together, are events where different kinds of poetry become layered upon one another with extraordinary eloquence. Words, dance, translation, cultural commentary, lighting, music — all add discrete but overlapping zones of beauty, meaning, drama.

On Tuesday, in a performance presented by Summer Stages Dance and the Institute of Contemporary Art here, a further layer came from the museum’s harborside setting. During “Bracko” (2008), transparent curtains allowed the audience to see yachts, water, seagulls, reflections, buildings and evening sky behind dancers and speakers. Then the blinds rose, so that “Nox” (Ms. Carson’s most recently published book, here receiving its stage premiere in what was described as “a new work in progress”) began, with the background view now brighter.

Yet those blinds soon lowered again, shutting off the luminous harborscape altogether. It’s a tribute to these artists that “Nox” then grew all the more engrossing. The older “Bracko” is fascinating, varied and full of promise, but the new “Nox” is a work of rare theatrical power: a sign that the Carson-Mitchell collaboration is gathering in imagination.

Several friends, also Carson fans, have asked me to describe the evening. I have found that difficult to do. It is easier for me to highlight a few peripheral observances as an alternative into the core and feel of the evening. Like Carson and Mitchell saying in the QandA that followed that they think of their collaboration as a work in progress and that they have no ulterior intentions as to where it will go and what it will become. That they assembled the various pieces—text, dance, music, setting, staging—just two days prior to the actual performance. That, when asked by an audience member to offer up one verb to describe the piece, Carson took some time to ponder this and then finally offered up, “thinging.” That Carson participates on stage alongside these consummate performers/dancers while possessing no theatricity or self consciousness herself, wearing a simple shift and her hair pulled back in a casual, offhanded manner. And that this juxtaposition of extraordinary body-based artists with an extraordinary cerebral poet seemed weirdly perfect.

Words or phrases I would use to describe it? Taut and yet wildly open. A celebration as well as a ritual of human sorrow and loss. Wisdom that lives in the interstices.

That’s vague, I know, but it is hard to get any closer. Macaulay is primarily a dance critic, so his approach leans more into that aspect. But for me, being more poetry-centric, I just can’t find a way to move this event out of its hermetic experientiality and into a more shared sense.

Every once in a while you find something online that well, defies description. Here’s two for you:

1. Synchronous Objects

The site is a project between choreographer William Forsythe and Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) and the Department of Dance. The approach explored is a kind of dancing/data visualization technique for really examining the underlying structures and relationships of movement over time. There is a lot to see, all of it visually breathtaking.

So find a nice slice of uninterrupted time. And make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash.

2. A History of the Sky (from The Long Now Foundation Blog)

A History of the Sky is an art project still in process by artist Ken Murphy. It features time-lapse images of the sky synchronized to show the same time of day.