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Flash Review 3, 12-10: "Mercy"
Monk and Hamilton Find the Way

By Peggy Cheng
Copyright 2002 Peggy Cheng

NEW YORK -- Lead co-creators Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton's "Mercy," as seen last week at the BAM Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, was a deep meditation on the capacity of people for displaying mercy. Do we have the space in our lives, heads, and hearts for kindness and compassion? Can we create the space for it? Limit it? Control it? Sense it when it appears or disappears?

The answer that I heard was a big, resounding "Yes!" in the form of a meditation -- a journey in which many acts were explored, slowly but surely focusing in on the subject and finally creating a sense of the serenity that makes progress possible. The structure seemed simple and unburdened, yet held a very pleasing depth. The play of space and where things reach to in space -- sound and voices, bodies, light, images and their various perspectives -- made me feel at once close and far away from the performers and the performance.

And in fact, the interplay of the elements put the performers and the audience both here and there. Perspectives constantly changed: the image of a cavernous mouth, when Ann Hamilton directed a tiny camera to Meredith Monk's vibrating vocal chords, loomed across the back of the stage; bodies danced in any number of configurations, scattering across the stage, treading a direct path, marching joyfully and with purpose on the diagonal, walking through us so that voices are heard among us, nearing us, and leaving us. The interplay seemed to say that we play with our own capacities -- we explore our possibilities to see what we are capable of taking in, and then we are more able of mind and heart.

Meditation is not an even pulse, and "Mercy" has the capacity to erupt, too. A raucous marching band paraded crosses the stage before us as 35 performers, former workshop attendees with the artists, joined the ensemble for this "big number." At another point, after a lone prisoner (Ching Gonzalez) called out for mercy in his dark cell, the others re-joined him in the space, going into perhaps the most dramatically physical section of the piece, spinning with abandonment and force.

The lighting, at times streaming and in pursuit, at other times kind, even subdued, was beautifully designed by Noele Stollmack.

Meredith Monk (music), Ann Hamilton (visual), and the collaborators, performers and musicians (Theo Bleckmann, Alexandra Montano, Ching Gonzalez, Lanny Harrison, Allison Sniffin, John Hollenbeck, and Bohdan Hilash) show us that we may all be part of this world where mercy is many things, and we may find that there is, in "Mercy," the serenity which may lead to a more constant capacity for kindness and compassion.

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