The Rome Opera House decides it is time to pay homage to minimalist music exponent Philip Glass – as a reaction to the excessive digital freedoms of these years, a freedom that has become difficult to manage. This return to the rules is like revival of bourgeois codes, which has been under consideration for some time.
According to Germano Celant, minimalist music is not about reduction or simplification, but about geometry – a form reminiscent of musical harmony. Informal and pop music are set aside in favor of rigor: even if opulent, minimalist music deserves respect for the fundamentals of rhythm and scale. Straight music – minimal: it results in precise projects and sober messages – that is, a mathematical score. Celant speaks of an architecture that at once musical and plastic.
A hypnotic cliff in front of a proliferation of whites and black lines in repetition by Sol LeWitt resembles a progressive sequence by Philip Glass: the violins produce looped refrains that resemble drums: there is an orderly rhythm, a straight scan, easy to understand even in a power chord. Fever and pleasure. Philipp Glass’ compositions are so confident in their rules that they allow him to engage with lyrical and rock genres with the security of a purring cat. It was 1968: Glass was accompanied by the violinist Pixley-Rothschild: scores hanging on the walls, moving around to the execution – the public applauding at the dawn of performance art. Now Philip Glass is eighty-two years old. He studied noise and silence. In the 1950s, when he visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University, he heard the sounds of his body, his beating heart, circulating blood. Minimalism the way Michael Nyman defined it.
Philip Glass began working for opera houses in 1975 along with director Robert Wilson and choreographer Luchina Childs. The ballets were named after personalities that symbolised human unity given by genius, effort and research: Einstein, Gandhi and Akhnaten, the pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty who imposed monotheistic religion during his reign. Philip Glass was born in 1937 – and the Rome Opera has decided to pay tribute to the synthesis of his path. A tribute in three times – or rather three disconnected ballet (a program that clashes with the unity referred to above, which can be confusing for a spectator).
The first work is a remake of the ballet Diamonds choreographed by George Balanchine in 1967 to music by Tchaikovsky: today it is called Hearts and Arrows and is choreographed by Benjamin Millepied to a string quartet by Philip Glass called Mishima. If Balanchine’s dancers sought a diamond structure, Millepied imitates the way diamonds capture light: hearts and arrows is a method used by gemologists to estimate the reflective qualities of stone. The dancers wear colorful t-shirts like in the film Grease, as if the refraction had broken down into a pride rainbow. Harmonies and gymnastics move intuition and irrationality, a physical complexity that reaches the mind before the heart. A pity that the music for this first ballet is pre-recorded.
The orchestra enters the hall for the second work titled Glass Pieces, with choreography by Jerome Robbins to the track Rubric and Facades, excerpts from the opera dedicated to the pharaoh Akhnaten. Staged for the first time in New York in 1983, the work defines an identity for the trend toward ballet on Broadway. It opens with a walk which gathers strength in a rhythmic and symmetrical choreography – an Italian audience may remember the variety of a Saturday night in the Sixties, our local translation of Broadway. It involves movements for 46 dancers.
These days all the Italian newspapers have started talking about the art of dance because of the third ballet: called Nuit Blanche, with choreography by Sebastien Bertaud to Philip Glass’ Tyrol Concert. The work was presented last night in Rome: the costumes come from the Christian Dior couture atelier directed by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Couture dance costumes mean pieces sewn and embroidered in an experimental laboratory made possible at a technical level by sartorial house that is a world leader for its history, tradition and economy. Tight bust bodices and wide tulle skirts: each skirt has the embroideries among two layers- the result is a rigid and soft presence that blends with the movement of the dancer’s legs – and returns to the structural minimalism of Glass that we have defined as compact. Embroidery is perceived as part of the legs movement, not as a fabric decoration – a vague iridescent nemesis. The opening of the ballet is classical, compared to the first two which are more rhythmical: the romanticism of this Nuit Blanche finds the sign of Chiuri for Dior, night colors for the moon among shines a green glass, like a corner of lawn lit in the dark, and the pasty antique velvet of a childhood memory. Eleonora Abbagnato’s muscular movements clash with this poem, hard and snappy, overly trained, to the detriment of the rhythmical sinuosity of the music.
Translated from the original Italian by Philippa Nicole Barr