I got my fix of the arts this week by watching Adam Donen’s Symphony to a Lost Generation. The subject matter was World War I; its horrors, its suffering and also highlighting the gruesome nature of lesser publicised atrocities that took place throughout the conflict, such as the Armenian genocide.
It was performed and filmed previously, then along with fantastic post production graphics, vintage film inserts and computer wizardry, was projected as ‘3D’ holographics onto two sheer screens. This brought back a certain element of depth to the show, making it feel like a cross between cinema and stage.
Formatted as a five movement symphony, the score was played by a full and rich orchestra, supported by powerful opera singers. The silence from the screen itself brought an eerie quality to the show, no swishes from the ballet shoes on the ground, forceful stamps only reverberating by sight. Despite being the core of the whole production, somehow sound felt detached and almost incidental to the images, much like a silent movie. Displaying the images in this format brought both the sense of presence and emptiness in equal measure, which was uncomfortably pertinent to the subject matter.
The visuals showed a number of world renowned performers in ballet, theatre, and music who were clearly masters of their art; Ernesto Tomasini as a grotesque mime and the stunning voice of soprano Yana Ivanilova as highlights. Their storytelling skills were all used wonderfully to discuss the horror of war in both specific and broader terms. Although there wasn’t a story as such, the narrative was constant throughout. Everybody was a victim. Everybody died, if not physically, then certainly mentally, emotionally; they fell out of the world in one way or another due to war.
The use of Butoh dance was a new one to me, and as a dance fan, this was the stand out scene; it’s hard not to be in awe of a dance form said to be born from the ashes of Hiroshima, where the painfully slow, yet jerky, distressed movements of the dancers were formed to convey suffering, disbelief and lack of hope. That, to me, was the tragedy so triumphantly demonstrated in this piece; that the dance form exists at all.
My emotions didn’t engage fully while watching; I maintained dry eyes throughout. But I think this was a good thing. I was, however, engaged politically, it gave me space, and I had a lot to say about both war and art on my journey home.
As an artistic concept, Donen’s Symphony to a Lost Generation was entirely complete. His personal journey of piecing together this installation was full, ambitious and lavish; drawing themes from Wagner and technology, being bold enough to enlist hundreds of the world’s best performers and brazenly punctuating scenes for the eyes and ears with iconic references and imagery. From conception to performance, editing and delivery, tiny details and the vast scale of what was accomplished is remarkable, and something that could only have been done with Donen and his team’s driving ambition and dogged perseverance. The coming together and unity just to make the show hangs heavily as an overtone to the piece, again pushing the art to the fore, which I feel is no bad thing.
This is no west end show. It is an important breakthrough in art. Each movement deserves a space in every modern art gallery across the world with an accompanying plaque next to the images and with surround sound music to make the experience more immersive. This is how we should be remembering war. Not as one person’s story, as a relentless repeating act of violence indiscriminate of who or how many suffer. Go and see it, then bring your teenage kids to see it.