A monumental Vision Impure

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

The Grumman A-6 Intruder was an American, twin jet-engine, mid-wing all-weather attack aircraft built by Grumman Aerospace. In service with the United States Navy and Marine Corps between 1963 and 1997, the Intruder was designed as an all-weather medium attack aircraft to replace the piston-engined Douglas A-1 Skyraider. As the A-6E was slated for retirement, its precision strike mission was taken over by the Grumman F-14 Tomcat equipped with a LANTIRN pod. From the A-6, a specialized electronic warfare derivative, the EA-6, was developed.

It was only about a year ago that in a CNn newscast from an American aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean that I notice the impossible to confuse EA-6 Prowler. What this meant is that an airplane that came into production in the earlier incarnation of the A-6 Intruder was in operation 53 years later. The airplane with renewed avionics was still an effective radar blocker.

A few weeks ago I was telling my friend composer John Oliver that I could no longer listen to any new version (either live or recorded) of Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043. Oliver said something close to this, “Alex you are done with it.

Part of the issue is that at age 74 all my fave Gerry Mulligan records and CDs are firmly ensconced in my memory. I don’t need to listen to them. They are in me, part of me. Only the visit of a friend who might not know of the wonders of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto or of Gerry Mulligan playing My Funny Valentine would lead me to play the music on my stereo.

I thought of all this when I read two reviews, on in my NY Times and the other on The Atlantic this week of The Holy Body Tattoo’s performance of monumental (originally labeled in lower case by Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon at the Howard Gillman Opera House part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.

The NY Times said, not a glowing review, of the performance which was an original 2005 work:

“it’s a good looking production.

Yet “monumental” was first staged, without the live music, in 2005 — when Blackberry was king, the iPhone was still a rumor, and the economic crash was three years off.The way we work [ monumental is about working in an office in the that year and the loneliness and depersonalization of it], and worry about work, has changed since then; if anything, we’re more disconnected now, more aware of the ephemerality of employment. But with its army of miserable whit-collar drone, “monumental” feels stuck in the past.”

The Atlantic review was kinder. But it all made me think and think about that out-of context A-6 Intruder of 1963 and of the very title of the NY Times review — Setting a Squadron of Joyless Worker Drones to Music. Of drones even bees have been left behind by the new applications of drones to kill from afar electronically.

It all made me think that I would be reluctant to attend a performance of Giselle or Swan Lake. Yes, John Oliver would be right, “I have done them.”

When I saw monumental in Vancouver back in 2005 I was deeply affected by it and I recognized it as a wake-up call for the society of the time. Perhaps like the NY Times says, times are now worse therefore monumental is passé. And yet I believe that particularly in dance or in art, (imagine the uproar in Paris of the first exhibitions of the Impressionists!) does that diminish those Impressionists today in comparison with modern 21st century art? I don’t think so.

In some way the expiration date of monumental is the very explanation of its cutting edge of the time and its subsequent influence on dance in our present time.

Long after The Holly Body Tattoo split up I followed the sinewy and tight Noam Gagnon (his company is called Vision Impure). I look forward to his next presentation here (perhaps a modification of the one I saw before) at the Vancouver Dance Centre, October 20–22 Vision Impure.

Link to: A monumental Vision Impure

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.