This year's White Light Festival illustrates how creators and performers today are collaborating to further blur boundaries to produce engaging, thought-provoking works of art. From dance presentations fusing popular and traditional forms to multidisciplinary theatrical productions, this year's lineup encourages us to gather together for a look at life through the lens of an array of voices spanning centuries and continents. Karissa Krenz talks to Lincoln Center’s Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, Jane Moss, about this year's highlights.
Karissa Krenz: Looking at this year's White Light Festival lineup, how are you feeling about the way the festival has developed over the last nine years?
Jane Moss: What I'm most proud of with the White Light Festival is that it has become its own kind of community. The festival incorporates a wide variety of settings, contents, traditions, and parts of the world, all collected together in so many different and interesting ways. There's something very powerful about that. It's a community of both artists and audience members that is really dedicated to what is transcendent inside all of us. In the world in which we live, where elevation is in very short supply, one finds that encounters with the highest achievements of human expression are a great gift.
KK: One of the artistic expressions at the forefront this year—more than in previous years—is dance.
JM: In a sense, this year's festival could be considered, in part, an art-of-the-body festival. What's especially interesting to me is that we're featuring non-classical dance, and most of the presentations blend many different styles. That fusion enables these pieces to get at the root of what connects all of us.
Some of the programs are rooted in street dance. Boy Blue's Blak Whyte Gray is one of them—a dynamic program grounded in England's hip-hop tradition. Another is Borderline, by the wonderful choreographic duo Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez, who make their Lincoln Center debut. It's about crossing all kinds of borders, and it's a beautiful presentation that includes aerial work as well.
Akram Khan returns to the festival with his new solo show XENOS. Based on the experience of Indian soldiers in World War I, this is the final solo work he's performing in as a dancer. Great Britain recently had a lot of World War I commemorations, and this was commissioned as part of that. It's incredibly emotional and enlightening for so many reasons.
We also decided to bring back Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra because it is wonderfully emblematic of the festival's gestalt, and made a major impact when we presented it during the opening week of the inaugural White Light Festival. Frequently, as is the case with many of our presentations, people don't hear about them until after the fact, so this is an opportunity for those who missed it in 2010 to catch it this time around—and it is a wonderful work to see again.
KK: There's another work that features dance, but it's more of a music/dance collaboration: Framing Time.
JM: Pianist Pedja Muzijevic was the real inspiration behind Framing Time, based on the music of Morton Feldman, who himself was intrigued by multidisciplinary approaches. Blending dance with Feldman's music is an enlightening way in which to hear and experience Feldman's work, which I feel touches upon many of the areas we explore in White Light—time, transcendence, and inner expansion being just some of them.
Feldman is a curious and fascinating character who's had a great deal of influence on a lot of subsequent artists. His music is quite difficult and is frequently long, and he was always interested in what was going on in other disciplines. He's not only a great American composer, he's also a great New York figure. I throw him in with the John Cage era—it was an exciting scene in which people were sharing ideas and experimenting in so many boundary-breaking ways. Feldman was also a big Samuel Beckett fan and, wonderfully for us, they collaborated too.
KK: Speaking of Beckett, his voice is back again this year, this time via Druid theater company's Waiting for Godot.
JM: We like to focus on Samuel Beckett regularly in the White Light Festival—his views on the human condition present us with a lot to think about. We have not, however, done one of Beckett's standard plays before—we have previously presented some of his prose works that have been adapted for the theater.
We're very excited about this Druid production of Waiting for Godot, which represents a rare opportunity for American audiences to experience an all-Irish staging of this play. It's directed by Garry Hynes—who was the first female director to win a Tony, for The Beauty Queen of Leenane—and she has especially worked in this staging to bring out Godot's humor. Remember: Bert Lahr was in the American premiere, and there's a wonderful tradition of casting comic actors, like Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, John Goodman, Bill Irwin, and others. It's rooted in vaudeville, and Beckett himself viewed it in a comic way—but I think Beckett always viewed things in a comic way. Comedy was his response to despair.
"In the world in which we live, where elevation is in very short supply, one finds that encounters with the highest achievements of human expression are a great gift."
KK: Another White Light Festival favorite, Bach, is back again, performed this year by violinist Hilary Hahn.
JM: It's funny, when I think of the festival's history, there are a couple of emblematic figures: Samuel Beckett is one, and Johann Sebastian Bach would be another. Bach appeals to the broadest range of listener, far more so than any traditional Western composer. A lot of people working in different musical traditions— like rock—are drawn to Bach, and maybe it is because he helped lay the foundation for modern Western music—its DNA, so to speak.
Bach's music, perhaps more than that of any other composer, can be readily perceived as transcendent. And by that I don't mean because he wrote a lot of overtly religious works; I mean that there is something about his music—say, if you're listening to the sonatas and partitas for solo violin—where you just feel like you're in tune with the universe. There's a kind of universal harmony that you can enter very readily with Bach, more so than with other composers.
KK: Vocal repertoire is an important part of White Light, and there are three major presentations that round out the festival: Haydn's oratorio The Creation, the return of the Latvian Radio Choir, and the opera Only the Sound Remains.
JM: The Creation is Haydn's masterpiece that depicts the Biblical view of the world's genesis. We've presented it in other forms very recently, and Les Arts Florissants, led by William Christie, will reveal extraordinary facets of the work. And it's a story that takes us, literally, to the beginning.
The Latvian Radio Choir is an exceptional group. The Baltics are a rich, fertile source of composers and—especially—choral music, and this choir is virtuosic in its ability to create immersive vocal soundscapes. This particular program juxtaposes Mahler with contemporary Latvian composers. Transcendence achieved through musical experience is a major theme for Mahler, and he found particular inspiration in nature. Complementing that, the choir will create luminous sound worlds in the music by the Latvian composers.
Finally, there's Only the Sound Remains, an exquisite piece with gorgeous music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, who has not yet been featured in the White Light Festival. It has Japanese roots—the libretto is an Ezra Pound interpretation of two Noh plays. Directed by the always imaginative Peter Sellars, it features stunning scenic design by visual artist Julie Mehretu. It's the kind of crosscultural and multidisciplinary project that illustrates the inspiring and illuminating discourse we believe is central to the community White Light has become.
Karissa Krenz is the editor of the White Light Festival Playbill.