There are elements to the 2013 EIF programme which are forever 1970s’s America, with performances by Philip Glass and Patti Smith and works from Laurie Anderson and Frank Zappa. Meredith Monk hails from similar climes, her multi-media pieces combining dance with theatre and music being couched within particular idealistically political and environmental messages throughout her near fifty-year career.
On Behalf of Nature continues this body of work, taking inspiration from an essay by Pulitzer-prize winning poet Gary Snyder entitled, “Writers and the War Against Nature”. So, here we have Monk, performing with her Vocal Ensemble, attempting a treatise on the responsibilities and obligations which the artist has towards the natural world.
Performed at a time when the burgeoning debate on “fracking” is reaching a hysterical pitch, On Behalf of Nature should feel utterly relevant. But instead, it feels uncompromisingly rooted in forty-year old visions of Mother Earth and how the human race must save our lonely blue-green planet.
The stage is empty, save for a small battery of instruments off to one side on which members of Monk’s multi-tasking ensemble play the rather one-dimensional minimalist soundtrack. All swaddled in outfits which resemble the kind of things with which cash-strapped BBC designers might have decked out intergalactic peasants for eighties Doctor Who, the troupe perform a tame, stilted rite of spring, incorporating simplistic animal posture and tribal dance, before harmony is disrupted and some great cosmic maelstrom threatens.
A clumsy video section near the piece’s end, juxtaposing visions of natural phenomena with humanity’s relentless market-driven destruction, leads into a serene final phase as the Ensemble, now robed in white, leave the vapour trails of Planet Earth literally hanging by a thread. But, on the whole, there is little to engage with here and, while it doesn’t dent Monk’s formidable reputation, this feels like a facile and redundant approach to an ever-important subject.