The Sounds of Heaven and Its Workouts: ‘How Like an Angel’ Blends Music and Acrobats
By: Anthony Tommasini, October 23, 2014
What are angels like? Descriptions must be taken on faith, whether from the Bible, Milton or Rodgers and Hart, who wrote a whole show about a disillusioned banker who marries one.
Well, on Wednesday night in James Memorial Chapel at Union Theological Seminary, an audience of about 200 people, standing in the center of the high-ceiling space, got possible insights into the question from a piece enticingly titled “How Like an Angel.” This 70-minute work, presented in its American premiere by Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, is an amazing collaboration between I Fagiolini, the British vocal ensemble that specializes in staged productions of Renaissance through modern-day music, and Circa, a troupe of acrobats from Australia, who have re-envisioned the circus as an expressive genre of movement, dance, contortions and high-flying gymnastics.
In a program note, Yaron Lifschitz, the artistic director of Circa, writes that the show is about “belief, love, failure, ascent, humility, endurance, passion, loss, death, life,” which is pretty comprehensive. But I took the title to heart. Every segment seemed a speculative glimpse into the angelic.
There was, for one, the routine when the astounding Bridie Hooper from Circa dangled from two black ropes high above the floor (no safety net here), as the singers of I Fagiolini performed a sensual, pungent setting of the Song of Songs by the French 20th-century composer Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur. Why do we mortals assume that angels are ethereal beings who float about gracefully? Here was a restless, contortionist angel, more mythic than mystical.
Or there was the opening episode. After the singers set the mood with a glowing account of a Thomas Tallis piece, mysterious electronic music by the composer Lawrence English began, and Paul O’Keeffe, from Circa, appeared, looking a little punkish in dark jeans and a hoodie, until he ripped them off, revealing white slacks and T-shirt as if primed to compete in a heavenly Olympics. Doing flips and leaps, he was joined, one by one, by the other Circa performers.
During Renaissance pieces by Josquin des Prez and Tomás Luis de Victoria, the Circa acrobats would sometime become bodily enmeshed: Imagine a game of Twister played by double-jointed people who, the rules stipulate, must hold hands. The uninhibited Mr. O’Keeffe would tumble, spin in the air and land on his tummy, kah-plop! And that’s not all. During one segment, he stood on a platform high above the audience, then leapt off, landing on an elevated mat with a thud. Why can’t angels be pranksters?
The music included a rousing Zulu song by the composer Bheka Dlamini, which the eight Fagiolini singers (including their director, Robert Hollingworth) performed while milling among the audience, and a transcendent account of Hildegard of Bingen’s “O viridissima virga.” During the final piece, “Hymn to Awe” by Adrian Williams, the Circa performers climbed up, swung around and held themselves horizontally on a single pole, a wondrous image. How like angels.
Original article can be found here