Dreaming Up Elsewhere
It was a typical warm and luminous Mediterranean winter day. We were driving through the winding road alongside the Dead Sea, deep in the Judea dessert. Occasionally, the knowledgeable Bedouin guide traveling with us would point out to an ancient dessert herb with magical medicinal powers.
The terrain seemed so calm and beautiful when she appeared, a huge rock in the shape of woman: “this is Lot’s Wife” the Bedouin guide said in Arabic, “she has been here for thousands of years. Overlooking the Dead Sea, forever suspended between life and death.”
Tall and proud she was standing there. Alone. A woman who dared to defy God’s command. Who could not resist looking back at her city, her world, as it was being destroyed.
Some months earlier, my Provenance project premiered at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in Connecticut and we were getting ready for the New York premiere at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. In Provenance, I have enlisted the artistic advice and theatrical vision of the director Robert Woodruff. I loved working with him. He is brilliant and he understands music and responds to it in a way that I find very stimulating and refreshing.
We started talking about ideas for a new collaboration.
I thought it would be interesting to try and create a physical, theatrical environment for I am writing to you from a far-off country – a large scale dreamscape, multi-chapter piece which I privately called a “CelloOpera” , composed for me by Eve Beglarian with text by the Belgian Surrealist Henri Michaux. I have recorded the piece on my album Almost Human. The reviews were raving. Listeners seemed to respond to the lush, haunting music. But I felt that in performing the piece live I am missing something. It needed to “live” in its own space. It couldn’t function as “just” concert music. We needed to rethink the performance elements and contextualize the piece.
Robert and I spent some months reading most of Michaux’s fantastic writing. Whatever we could lay our hands on. We were looking for the response to far-off country – the other side.
Yet, after many cups of espresso, and a foray into rare and out-of-print copies of Michaux’s work which we managed to find in the Columbia University library (with the help of Robert’s wonderful assistant – Andrea), we realized we couldn’t find the answer in Michaux. We needed a voice of another woman; a strong woman.
As I saw her towering, still figure, soaring above the salty rocks of this beleaguered land, I thought about Lot’s wife’s story. This nameless woman who became one with nature as she has embraced who she is as a woman, refusing to follow the cruel and arbitrary command of her god. Making a choice to be compassionate, to be human, to be feminine.
She became my counterpart to the delicate, naïve, passive and child-like woman of far-off country. We have enlisted the fabulous writer Erin Cressida Wilson to write the text – inspired by the story of Lot’s wife, and composer extraordinaire Missy Mazolli to write the music.
Elsewhere, a CelloOpera was born.
Maya Beiser, New York, NY