Last Wednesday, three of the original memembers of MEV—Frederic Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum, and Alvin Curran—reunited.
Curran began the concert by stepping behind the backdrop to perform a plantive harmonica solo. He also played piano, shofar and inserted jarring electronic sound effects. Teitelbaum manned a laptop and electric keyboard. Rzewski played piano (I didn't know he was a virtuoso), and made occasional comments, and the honk with a duck call. He provided the ground: “Johnny comes marching home” and bits of other haunting folk songs kept unfolding majestically.
The tempo was slow and easy, but the textures and moods waxed and waned. Mostly it took the cue from Rzewski’s piano: plantive and elegaic.
About fifteen minutes into the performance, a white-haired old lady in the front row stood up and started dancing. Really dancing—doing slow, steady, repetitive gestures. Almost ordinary movements, nothing balletic or theatrically “expressive”. After a while, Rzewski introduced her as their oft-times collaborator of 50 years ago, Simone Forti.
My God, one of the heroines of post-modern dance. She danced 20 minutes, took a break, and then did some more. She was at times the embodiment of the music. Other times she was a critical listener. Sometimes she clowned with the performers, getting into their face. She crawled over the floor. She rolled around on the floor, over the cables and power strips. At one point she sang an Italian song—faintly, quaiveringly—but with ardor. It was astonishing, but it was also disturbing. An 81-year-old dancer, no matter how fit, is so outside the norm that it’s a struggle to see her as a dancer at all. I’m sure that was the point.
The concert was a salute to something created 50 years ago, but it also was its own creation, vividly alive, here and now. Even as the sirens at the Not My President demonstration happening around downtown filtered through MEV's music. A lesson in focus, dignity, perseverance: exactly what I needed.