MONSTERS OF GRACE
Barbican Theatre, EC2
Opened 19 May, 1998

Like a computer program, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass's "digital opera" is currently in its "beta testing" phase, and even carries a software-like version number: v1.0 premiered in Los Angeles last month, v1.2 was on show in the Barbican's BITE season. Nor is the term "stereoscopic" a bit of arts-marketing hype: as we sit there wearing our little 3D glasses, an enormous computer-animated severed hand gestures to us from the movie screen, or a boy unicycles impossibly slowly down a country path.

Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak's silicon realisations of Wilson's storyboards alternate with characteristic stage scenes. Wilson's eye for visual composition is unrivalled in the live arts, and these vignettes are typical of his not-quite-still lifes painted with solid light and with flesh. No point looking for meaning, and certainly not for significant links with the songs sung and played by the Philip Glass Ensemble in the pit.

Glass has taken as his libretto the love poems of 13th-century Sufi dervish Jalaluddin Rumi, with exhortations like "Open the window in the centre of your chest and let the spirits fly in and out". Regular Glass cohorts Michael Riesman and Kurt Munkacsi give the music a vaguely Middle Eastern feel, and the tighter song structure suits the composer, who also utilises the counter-tenor voice he is so fond of. Nice tunes, then but they ought to be, since the primary chord sequences and atmospheres have occurred before in his North Star, Satyagraha and his score for Paul Schrader's film Mishima. Nevertheless, Glass and Wilson's first major collaboration since Einstein On The Beach two decades ago clearly exhibits the precise beauty which is the keynote of both.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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