The End of Cinematics
nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
October 5, 2006
When I left Mikel Rouse's revolutionary The End of Cinematics at BAM, I felt as if every sense I had, and possibly a sixth, had been completely sucked dry. In the late 19th century, there was an artistic movement in Europe led by Richard Wagner for a "total work of art," or a "synthesis of the arts." Rouse, in The End of Cinematics, may have unknowingly stumbled upon an answer to a great many of the questions Wagner and his followers spent years trying to resolve. And he has done it with a uniquely 21st century flavor.
The End of Cinematics combines musical composition, video (live and recorded), and live performance, all into one tightly woven, metatheatrical event. As the night began, we were offered popcorn walking into the theatre, and one giant movie screen towered in front of us. With the house lights still up, four brand new movie trailers played (including the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spiderman 3 trailers). With cause, the audience was a bit restless; did any of us expect to be watching the new Spiderman 3 trailer upon arrival at the BAM Harvey Theater that night? Finally, the trailers ended, the houselights dimmed, and the music began at a volume that would never decrease, except to stop entirely. The screen's transparency revealed itself and six performers were visible; behind them, a series of gigantic screens.
Over the course of 15 interweaving musical compositions, images floated and faded across the screen in the foreground and those in the background, while live performers danced mechanically and sung, or at least mouthed, the lyrics. The ambiguity here is representative of the ambiguity of the entire piece. Notions of "live" and "recorded" are obliterated. There is a truth there, in that there are live images projected of the performers on stage, as well as recorded bits in different locales, combined with surrealist images floating across the screen, and music. But all perceptions of what was really happening are blurred. I had no idea what was live and what was recorded. Normally, I expect something on a screen to be recorded, and see it in its relation to the live people on stage. In this performance, I was not allowed to make those distinctions.
When we watch an event in the theatre we unknowingly develop expectations for the execution of the event, and the limitations of the performers, the technical elements, and the design. What Rouse does is continually set up those expectations by showing us something that we understand (live performers dancing, movie trailers at the top of the show, graphic images on screen) and then subverting them. Every time I thought I had something to grab onto, my expectations would be destroyed.
For example, a single image on the screen, set to Rouse's blaring music, would be on the giant foreground screen, with performers behind it, and other screens with separate images behind them. I could understand this relationship. But then, that image would start to bleed into the background image and, through the music, seem to guide the movement of the performers, while live cameras on them would actually be projected simultaneously with the image. Every level of performance became synthesized into one.
The one fault of the show is that it runs a bit too long on one meditative purpose. The exploration I have just mentioned was basically repeated over and over in the piece to an almost mind-numbing extent. There was no progression in the show, but rather, it sat on one idea, and turned it inside and out over and over again. But I have to recommend The End of Cinematics because it is a bold foray into uncharted territory in performance. There is little doubt that the influence of this technology, and the questions it is capable of exploring are palpable and exciting. And Rouse's triumphant and heartbreaking score thundering through Brooklyn for 1-½ hours is enough in and of itself to witness this revolutionary event in the theatre.