January 19, 2010
For most people, the word "choir" evokes an image of a group of people standing together singing. Last weekend, I learned that the term can also apply do dance.
Of the many beautiful and innovative qualities of Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton's rapturous dance piece, The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories, the most memorable is the "movement choir." The choreographers assemble a group of 18 women who appear on stage at the start of the work standing in rows on risers. When the work begins, they all make beautiful patterns with their bodies to the sound of a live musical score played by eight musicians as six soloists dance before them.
The texture of the movement choir is indeed chorus like. The work in harmony with and at some times in counterpoint to the soloists. At one point, a soloist gets swept up by the movement choir, as if she's being carried off the ground by some powerful elemental force. The group carefully and almost imperceptibly shunts her body sideways and upwards. At another point, the movement choir becomes a long serpent of bodies bent over one another and moving in perfect synch through space unstoppably. Anything that gets caught in between its ever-trundling legs gets shaken up and destroyed. The effect of the hapless soloists getting caught up in the monster's belly is at once comic and sinister.
Garrett and Moulton haven't created a narrative work with The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories. But I found myself thinking of the movement choir as a force of nature or an energy field that's ever-present in our lives but completely unknowable. I guess the best singing chorales in the world convey the same feeling when they sing masterworks like Monteverdi's Vespers, Tallis' Spem in Allium or Mozart's Requiem. Whether standing still and singing, or keeping their mouths shut and moving, choirs at their best can make us understand the word "harmony" in a profound way.