In Tune with the Universe
An esteemed collection of international artists will converge at Lincoln Center for the WhiteLightFestival.org, where for the ninth year running, the human body, voice, and spirit reach new levels of transcendence, live performances spark communal experiences, and existential dread is tempered by hearty laughter in the face of the absurd.
The festival, founded in 2010, is an annual celebration of art's capacity to illuminate the many dimensions of our interior lives. This year's lineup continues to expand upon that theme, with multidisciplinary events in six venues on Lincoln Center's campus and across the city from October 16 to November 18.
The festival opens with the return of Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, a performance work melding contemporary dance with martial arts, performed by monks from China's Shaolin Temple. Sutra sold out during its U.S. premiere run in the inaugural White Light Festival.
"We felt very strongly that Sutra is a performance people want to see more than once, or may have missed out on the first time," said Jane Moss, Lincoln Center's Ehrenkranz Artistic Director. "Sutra is one of many unique global collaborations featured this year, and we are particularly thrilled to highlight the art of the human body along with music in 2018."
Another unprecedented dance work will be the U.S. premiere of XENOS, in which British choreographer Akram Khan dances his final solo performances in a full-length piece. In XENOS, which means "stranger," Khan combines classical Indian kathak and contemporary dance to embody the shell-shocked dreams of a colonial soldier during the First World War. Known for his bold fusions of East and West, Khan previously brought his acclaimed solo DESH to the White Light Festival in 2013.
Two more international collaborations bring cutting-edge contemporary and hip-hop dance to White Light's stages. Company Wang Ramirez, based in the South of France, presents Borderline, in which performers attached to cables create a visual poetry of gravity and weightlessness. For this New York premiere, choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez combine aerial movement with dance to explore the shifting international and personal boundaries of our multicultural world. In equally revelatory fashion, East London's Boy Blue, founded by Michael "Mikey J" Asante and Kenrick "H2O" Sandy, epitomizes physical virtuosity with a fierce political bite in the U.S. premiere of the dance-theater work Blak Whyte Gray.
For a different but no less profound embodiment of humanity's perplexing plight, Ireland's Druid theater company and Tony Award–winning director Garry Hynes present a 14-performance run of Samuel Beckett's masterpiece Waiting for Godot. While the White Light Festival has featured dramatic interpretations of Beckett's prose works to much acclaim, this is the first time the festival has mounted a full-length play by the irreverent Irish bard. Through employing slapstick comedy and pushing the boundaries of the English language, this exceptionally funny interpretation of the iconic Beckett play reminds us of the universal need to laugh in the face of despair.
For the ninth year running, the human body, voice, and spirit reach new levels of transcendence.
Music still plays a central role in the festival; the exemplary Takács Quartet appears for the first time at Lincoln Center with new violinist Harumi Rhodes—founding member Károly Schranz recently retired—in a sublime Schubert exploration. The quartet is joined by cellist David Requiro for the breathtaking Cello Quintet, paired with Webern's late-Romantic Langsamer Satz, one of that composer's earliest works. Violin luminary Hilary Hahn joins the White Light Festival for the first time to present solo Bach, exploring the labyrinthine beauty of selected sonatas and partitas in minor keys. This much anticipated recital comes on the heels of her new album, to be released next month, which completes her recording of the solo Bach set that began with her acclaimed debut album in 1997, Hilary Hahn Plays Bach. A Grammy-winning recording career followed.
Music, movement, and light merge in Framing Time, a world-premiere production co-presented with Baryshnikov Arts Center. Pedja Muzijevic vividly renders Morton Feldman's spare, mystical piano piece Triadic Memories as the colors and elastic tempos of the composer's painterly music are transformed into poetic movement by Spanish choreographer and dancer Cesc Gelabert. Set and lighting design by Burke Brown completes the meditative ambience.
The superlative period-instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants and director William Christie return to the festival for Haydn's Creation, a grand musical depiction of the origins of the universe. Using text from the Bible and Milton's Paradise Lost, Haydn brilliantly employs magnificent orchestration, a chorus of jubilant angels, and a trio of archangel soloists to conjure stormy seas, radiant sky, sprightly fauna, and awestruck humanity in this triumphal oratorio.
Another superb vocal offering will be an a cappella concert at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin by the resplendent Latvian Radio Choir, which first brought its miraculous sound to the festival in 2012. Moving seamlessly among Latvian, Old Slavonic, Tibetan, German, and English texts, the choir pairs luminous Mahler with contemporary Latvian composers and a beautiful meditation by Valentin Silvestrov.
White Light Festival 2018 will conclude with the resonance of Kaija Saariaho's hypnotic chamber opera Only the Sound Remains, directed by Peter Sellars. In this U.S. premiere based on Ezra Pound's translations of two Noh plays, a ghost and an angel emerge from a world of light and shadow for a series of supernatural encounters given voice by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and bass-baritone Davóne Tines and embodied by celestial dancer Nora Kimball-Mentzos. This shimmering world is completed by the ingenious set design of visual artist Julie Mehretu.
As in festivals past, expert panel discussions, pre-performance talks by artists and scholars, and film screenings—this year, Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (2007) and Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet (1955)—add another dimension to the festival, as will post-performance White Light Lounges. All of New York, and beyond, is invited to partake.
Ann Crews Melton is a writer and former New Yorker based in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The White Light Festival 2018 is made possible by The Shubert Foundation, The Katzenberger Foundation, Inc., Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater, The Joelson Foundation, The Harkness Foundation for Dance, Great Performers Circle, Chairman’s Council, and Friends of Lincoln Center.
For tickets and information, visit WhiteLightFestival.org.