Laurie Anderson Premieres Delusion

ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage

By: - Sep 28, 2011

Chalk drawings and comments are erased and written again, in a cycle of beginnings. Laurie Anderson performs Delusion a cycle of nature, culture and mortality. Electronic rain weeps with Laurie Anderson’s violin. Laurie Anderson performing Delusion at Campbell Hall UCSB

Laurie Anderson
ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage
September 27 to October 2

Masterful and spellbinding, the Boston premiere of Delusion by  performance artist Laurie Anderson received a standing ovation from the Boston audience. Anderson's suspenseful meditation on life, language, memory and identity held the audience, undistracted, for 90 minutes of compelling, thought provoking drama.

Vignettes were skillfully threaded into a floating electro-visual and sonic tapestry integrated with Anderson's trademark technologies, an electrically enhanced violin, videos streaming across screens and a gender-bending vocoder to alter her voice for different characters. The political and the personal were intertwined -the end of the U.S. empire and the death of her mother -and, at the heart of this cyclical tale of nature, culture and mortality.

This twice-told tale alternated between two commentators, the wry, awe-struck Anderson and Fenway Bergamot, the forlorn, wizened elderly gentleman who is her self-described alter-ego and conscience. Anderson moved on stage between four make-shift but, strategically placed screens, the central screen being at once, the comforting seat where she reflected on life and, a final resting place or grave. How do we begin anew? she asked, how do we begin a new era?  Twirling down across three screens in slow-motion, we watched the spent brown leaves of Fall. The core belief of Delusion is that words and stories can create the world as well as make it disappear. Anderson's virtual collage was ‘of such beauty’ as Lou Reed suggested ‘that a more enlightened civilization would build a monument to her’. 

Conceived as a series of short mystery plays Delusion conjures elves, mysteries, ghost ships, imaginary guests and dead relatives that elicits nervous humor, conveys an underlying terror and, possesses the unspoken hope that her questions imply. From everyday details Anderson connects her observations in parallel with larger myths and a political schema whose imagery she spins into gold. Delivered with an acute sense of timing which kept the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats, the whole effect was registered through sound: her violin's melancholy drone was in counterpoint with the remote, altered voices that were in sync with supporting musicians, Tibetan temple horns, Arabic strings and a call to prayer. These sonic threads reverberated with a deeply felt force embedded in us, a moveable feast meant to be transformative and activist. Wide awake, Anderson summoned the spirits to provoke this nation's citizenry from its fitful slumber.

Visual staging echoed Anderson's soliloquies that are a kind of talking blues which in turn, amplified her music. Whatever dissonance we experience is bearable as it is rooted in a traditional harmony. Soaring from the mundane to the cosmic Anderson created an immersive experience. Videos of rain drawn-down by gravity across fogged-in windows expressed her lumbering grief writ-large. This image was doubled by Anderson who slowed down the action (and, sound) of drawing her violin bow across its strings to create a meditative space for awareness through a stretched-out tone. In another scene, videos streamed a succession of childish drawings and fragmentary phrases scrawled across a blackboard, then erased and covered in layers, to begin again. The raw immediacy of Anderson's visuals contrasted the remote, vast spaces of her often lonely sonic landscape, which are punctuated by the collaged rhythms of her spoken texts. 

Delusion written and performed by Laurie Anderson was commissioned by the Vancouver Winter Olympics (2010) and the Barbican, London. Two pieces are from Anderson’s critically acclaimed CD Homeland (2010). Considered her most poetic work to date, Anderson (62) connects social stories with personal ones -her dreams and mother’s recent death for a memorable and resonant performance. Anderson successfully bridged her work known in New York art world into an international career as a pop artist. Best known for O Superman, Anderson’s first album (1980) launched an international career with hit Big Science that was number two on British pop charts. Anderson was appointed artist-in-residence of NASA in 2002. A retrospective of her visual and installation work will open in October in Sao Paolo. Anderson lives in New York City.

For six performances only (September 27 – October 2, 2011) Delusion is presented byArtsEmerson: The World on Stage, at the Paramount Center Main Stage (559 Washington Street, Boston’s Theater District).Tickets, from $25 -$89, are on sale now at or by phone at (617) 824-8400.. Recommended for ages 12 and up. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.