Laurie Anderson’s “Dirtday!” - REVIEW
Photo by Lucie Jansch
Goddess. Shaman. Greenwich Village griot. She’s Laurie Anderson, virtuoso performance artist/storyteller who has been traversing the country (as well as Europe and the U.K.), with her latest solo work, “Dirtday!” which landed at UCLA's Royce Hall last Friday. The final installment of her trilogy that includes “Happiness” and “The End of the Moon,” this 85-minute work also makes use of the “Anderson Unplugged” scenario, or at least as unplugged as she can be, her technological prowess still on sumptuous display in violin and voice-distorting gadgets that we’ve come to know and love. Here is the artist stripped to her bare essentials, something akin to a postmodernist Garrison Keillor crossed with a 21st century Rod Serling.
Seriously, Anderson’s reflections are wide-ranging: From Darwin and peacocks’ brilliant blue tails to the Catholic church, popes on other planets and our forthcoming election, “Dirtday!" is also Anderson’s moniker for Earth Day. And by getting into the nitty-gritty of the earth, or in her case, dirt, and all that it encompasses, including life, death, and the notion that America is still a battleground, Anderson weaves a tale so compelling it makes James Stewart’s obsession with Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” look like puppy love.
Slight of build and still possessed of an alluringly silky voice and kill-worthy comic timing, Anderson, now 65, commanded a candle-strewn stage in signature white shirt, skinny black tie and black pants. Creating an atmosphere with words, lighting (designed by Brian Scott), and sounds, the gamin-faced sage wrapped it all in warm and fuzzy, albeit, occasionally warped, tones. Standing at her keyboard-music stand, Anderson riffed on stuff such as a New Jersey tent city and the National Defense Authorization Act, then busted out her electric fiddle to jam with pre-recorded electronica – rustling winds, sampling – even managing to warble through a “pillow speaker” device that turned her voice into helium-like, high-pitched notes and strange sucking sounds.
“The purpose of death is the release of love,” she intoned, after settling into a red velvet wingchair and showing a heartfelt and hilarious video of her late, piano-playing rat terrier, Lolabelle. Anderson also discoursed on dreams and “How to feel sad without being sad,” her thoughts careening from one profundity to the next, until mystically connecting the dots in a kind of phantasmagorical way that eventually makes sense of the senseless.
Offering an elegiac encore reminiscent of Arvo Pärt, her violin providing sonic solace, Anderson left us with the perfect parting moment, an image of a space traveler with her feet on the ground, her heart on a celestial trajectory. Laurie Anderson, a tour guide through the unknowable (who has also been designated as the first new artist fellow at CAP UCLA), was on fire.
- Victoria Looseleaf