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LA stages overflow: Beachy Einstein, zappy Zappa and more

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The deluge is on — so whether it's the landmark "Einstein on the Beach" or Frank Zappa's finally-mounted "200 Motels" or the mind-stretching Nederlands Danse Theater or the multi-cultural Body Traffic or the Bach marathoner András Schiff, you're bound to get gobsmacked in a performing arts orgy.

And to think that it took 37 years before the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass "Einstein" could land its full-complement staging — right here, not in New York — thanks to LA Opera and UCLA. What's more, after this production's worldwide, year-long tour ends in Paris, these original creators of the piece will hang it up.

So what was the intermission-less, four-hour-plus extravaganza like? A dream. One that you walk into and sit immersed in scene after scene, while the cast's sleep-walking characters utter here-and-now aphoristic texts and sing superbly nuanced syllables — all framed by stage pictures that are marvelously spare art works in themselves to music that whispers and roars and lulls and assaults.

If you were lucky enough to be among those in the audience who crouched and side-stepped their way out through the darkened rows (humans with human needs), and then back again, you became part of a unique theater experience that integrated stage and spectators.

And about the title? Ah, yes, the violin virtuosa Jennifer Koh, wearing a white frizzy wig that suggests the fabled physicist, sits at the side playing her amplified fiddle. And, in a favorite vignette, a woman repeats "I was in a pre-maturely air-conditioned supermarket...and saw bathing caps there" while morphing into a Patty Hearst-with-machine-gun persona. In another stunner a Bela Lugosi-like man stands with his black bride in open view on an antique train's end car, the music swells, the stage darkens, the slight movement is glacial — until it ends as the bride suddenly grins and pulls a gun on him.

GlobalLAO-Gallery-Press-Einstein2013-EotB_14.jpgBack to Einstein: He loved the seaside and trains. His theories spawned world-destruction capabilities, also covertly referenced in the piece. No need to look for further allusions. But be glad, after all these years of hearing about it, that at last we had the complete production done with spectacular artistry...

The other vintage work that you'll probably never see again is Zappa's, "200 Motels" harking back to its infamous 1970 concert performance at Pauley Pavilion, when Zubin Mehta and the LA Phil collaborated with the then 29-year-old cross-over composer. It finally had a stage premiere at Disney Hall, the orchestra augmented by a rock band and led by an imperturbable and dedicated Esa-Pekka Salonen.

zappa-motels.jpgThose motels represent the touring icons of Zappa's band, Mothers of Invention. And this piece, a pseudo-satire of the establishment — one that's big on shock value — revels in obscenities and puts on feigned in-your-face sex acts. Angry young man? Seems that way. He was in his 20s. As staged here by James Darrow, "Motels" came across as tiresomely adolescent in its obsessive, ridiculously deployed props of penises that were marched around.

But the good-natured Master Chorale and LA Phil musicians gave the prescribed antics their all (jumping up and down, hollering on cue, etc.), and delivered the scintillatingly angular symphonic parts of the score with full vigor. Hila Plittman, an extraordinary soprano charged with aleatoric high ascents, looked as gorgeous as she sounded and basso Morris Robinson made a booming presence.

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Across the street at the Music Center Pavilion, though, Nederlands Danse Theater marked a strictly adult presence — in the sense of advanced development, not sexual fetish. And for the 30-plus years the company has been stopping here it still epitomizes that chasm between European and American sensibility. Think Kafka and Kundera, less the Beats.

same-diff-jump.jpgAnd nowhere on the program was there a greater sense of it than in Sol Léon's/Paul Lightfoot's "Same Difference," the grabbiest piece of dance theater I've seen in a long time — all of it integrated within sophisticated, inventive stagecraft. In fact, it never let go, starting with the audio. Taped, variegated groans, in superb fidelity and amplified to be heard a block away, accompanied the several characters obliquely making their way onstage and mouthing those groans. Was this parody? Should we laugh? Some did, initially.

Whatever the subject matter, it needed no explanation. An eastern bloc soldier appears, Jorge Nozal, emblematic in his various states and finally fastening us in his gaze as he walks on a plank extending past the stage. So are the various others engaging in neo-Expressionist entanglements with each other. Everyone wants/needs something. The Philip Glass collage score further carried the emotional tone.

Also in the roof-raiser category was the exuberant Body Traffic at the Broad Stage, which made me wonder: How rare is it for a choreographer to compose stories and hitch his dances to their implications? I mean stories that tell of a culture's accepted biases? And then twist them into strands of irony?

Let's just say very rare. Which is what Barak Marshall has managed to do with "And at midnight the green bride floated through the village square," his evocation of an old world that traces back to a brusque, hard-core gender inequality with raucous, gleeful vivacity in an utterly absorbing array of characterizations on stage.

The work is both a playlet, made of related scenes, and a powerful parable. It makes its acute declaration by way of Margolit Oved, former Inbal star and the choreographer's mother, who appears onstage to archly quantify what goes into the bearing and nursing of children. All that is made light of, sardonically, as she repeats her quiet, acerbic summary: "but the husband is the provider."

Everything else that goes on around Oved's narration is an acting-out of her observation. Dancers, in vigorous unison drills, shrug and gesture their shtetl attitudes, evoking every Klezmer mannerism with robust outwardness.

In one vignette a man on a bench, reading his newspaper, shoos away one damsel after another sidling up to him. Best, and most comic of all, a husband and wife stand facing each other maybe an inch apart. He tells her how to cook fish, then lamb, then pigeon — with concise instructions. She argues, with devastating persuasiveness, that killing them is wrong.

But most clever of all is the unique tapestry Marshall weaves, which he animates with a lively collage score — including Barry Sisters songs, Gypsy tangos ("Dark Eyes"), Yiddish and Arabic roof-raisers. At the end couples swirl onstage simultaneously, each dancing a different routine, reminding me of tango show finales.

This sizzling local company — 10 members with a zest for characterization, enormous versatility and high-level technique — not only etched Marshall's work with fine point, they just as easily lavished idiomatic American pop/jazz finesse on Richard Siegal's "O2Joy."

The sheer star value of Andrew Wojtal in his lip-syncing/hi-jinks dance to Ella Fitgerald's "All of Me" had the audience gasping in hysterical delight. But sad to say, Kyle Abraham's "Kollide," is one of those body-adoration, by-the-yard dances just as amorphously molasses-like as its new age-y score. All atmospherics...

On to real matter: Bach at Disney, the Baroque master's "Goldberg Variations," played by the master pianist András Schiff. Arguably, not since Glen Gould's early recordings of the rarely-played, esoteric work hit the two million mark in sales, has there been so much buzz for it. And here the current Bach specialist's opening notes of the Aria fell heaven-sent, like soft, luminous, perfect petals on the keys, conjuring a thought: that if there is a god this music and this performance gave closest evidence of it — no matter that over the long stretch, 75 minutes with all the repeats, there was some loss of focus.


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