Laurie Anderson

May 6, 2009

I just saw Laurie Anderson perform her retrospective “Burning Leaves” at the Norrlandsoperan in UmeĆ„ – as part of the MADE festival. She was incredible. The Opera House was packed. In fact, I almost didn’t get a ticket. Someone couldn’t make it so two tickets in the third row were up for grabs this afternoon. Anyway. I started listening to her work as a high school student — where I even choreographed and performed a weird modern dance piece to “Walking and Falling” when I was member of a dance company. But I hadn’t ever seen/heard her perform in person til tonight. “Burning Leaves” was a beautiful but simple spectacle of story-telling, violin and electric music against a field of votive candles, complex lighting, and ambient smoke. I copied this menu of the “stories/performances” from her website:

The Birds
Western Pennsylvania: escaping technology, grudges, kisses
End of Time: the apocalypse, childhood church, crucifixion versus stoning
“History” Teacher
Economy: economy crashing what will happen next, talking about the future, car crash statistic
Loving The Stars
There’s Trouble At The Mine
Maybe If I Fall Asleep
The Geographic North Pole
Tribe Documentary
The Ugly One With The Jewels
Buddhist Canoe Trip
The Dream Before
Story about a Story: swimming pool accident, hospital story
Starting Over Again: running the country, looking up vs. guessing, punctuation, another day in America
Long 10 Day Walks: walking the dog, attack from the air

While it’s hard to say I have a favorite, I especially loved “There’s Trouble at the Mine.” She did something with the sound while she was telling the story so that her voice was especially low, almost masculine. The story was partly about the current global political/economic situation — the title referring to old Hollywood movies where a character would come rushing into the bar, through the swinging wooden doors, and announce: “There’s trouble at the mine!” After which everyone in the bar would stop talking and turn simultaneously around to look at the messenger before rushing out into the streets to investigate. At the end of the piece, she started yelling: “There’s trouble at the mine!” over and over again. I was almost hysterical I was laughing so hard…. Speaking of which, it was especially interesting watching her performance here in Sweden. It seemed like most of the audience didn’t understand the humor — which is understandable I suppose — so I was pleasantly surprised at the end when she got a standing ovation. But it was sort of funny in its own way experiencing Laurie Anderson’s unique brand of humor in “translation” here — especially since the Swedes aren’t particularly emotive or laugh-out-loud-and-often-type people. Since her father’s side of the family comes from Sweden perhaps she expects this quiet but appreciative reaction…. Anyway. I also liked the piece about the attack from the air. It started off as a story about walking her terrier Lolabel in the northern California wilderness — and swooping turkey vultures mistaking the little white dog for a rabbit — and artfully transitioned into a story about the aftermath of 9/11 (and collective fear of attacks from the air)….