* Notes *
William Kentridge performed the Dadaist sound poem Ursonate (ovation pictured) at Cal Performances last Friday in Berkeley as part of his UC Berkeley residency this school year. The piece involves Kentridge intoning Kurt Schwitters' nonsense words at a podium as images flash in the background on a large piece of paper. The effect is almost meditative, at least until Kentridge was joined by soprano Ariadne Greif, trombone player Danny Lubin-Laden, and musical saw player David Coulter toward the end of the performance.
Ursonate or "Primeval Sonata" is a poem written by the German artist Kurt Schwitter from 1922 to 1932. It has movements, as with a piece of music, and there are recurrent sound patterns such as "fümmsböwö" or "rakete." As the parent of small children, it reminded me of the insectile language in the 2016 picture book Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis.
Kentridge's version, which premiered at the Performa 17 festival at the Harlem Parish, features his art, there are images of dancers, soldiers, and even Kentridge himself walking over a chair. There are the words of the piece projected and also the odd sayings that often appear in Kentridge's work. Most of these seem to be projected over various book pages, sometimes we see the pages of a book flipped through from cover to cover.
In the finale soprano Greif and trombonist Lubin-Laden enter from the audience, Greif seems to converse or even argue with Kentridge using the same syllables from Schwitters' libretto. The saw player Coulter enters later, from upstage, it was fun to see him play the saw with a drum stick and a bow.
* Tattling *
The audience did not talk, but there were two ringtones noted from unsilenced mobile phones, one in the middle of the 45 minute piece that seemed based on "Bad to the Bone" and one closer to the end.
The performance was sold-out and was performed in the intimate Zellerbach Playhouse, which only has 400 seats.