Stephanie and I saw *Everything That Happened and Would Happen* at the Park Avenue Armory on 6/3/19. Stephanie told me about this, I had no idea it was happening, knew nothing about it - - but everything I’ve seen at the Armory has been worth seeing, and tickets were only $40, so why the hell not. I’m so glad she brought me to this, it was tremendous.
It’s an abstract work of theatre and music by German composer and director Heiner Goebbels. The general subject was History, with a capital H. Goebbels looked at the last century in European history and processed it through a number of sources - - he used excerpts from Patrik Ourednik’s 2001 book *Europeana,* he recycled costumes, props, and sets from his own 2012 production of the John Cage opera *Europeras,* and most delightful of all he used clips from Euronews’s “No Comment” news show, which uses raw news footage with no commentary, explanation, or translation.
It was one of those performances where you couldn’t tell when the performance actually started. There were five musicians onstage: a percussionist, a saxophone player, someone playing the ondes martenot, someone playing electric guitar and electronics, and someone playing the organ. We took our seats and it was hard to tell whether the musicians were warming up or really playing the piece. I had to sneeze and decided not to stifle my sneeze - - it seemed like my sneeze (which is rather loud, I got my sneeze from my father) would be a welcome addition to the sonic landscape. Stephanie agreed.
There was a “performance ensemble” of twelve people: dancers, actors, whatever. They moved things around, read bits of text, did all kinds of things. They wore black, jumpsuit/coveralls. They set up the initial tableau, which was composed of large silver Art Deco seashell sculptures, various large boxes, a few scenic drops, and a very large gold disk on a table at the back, with a long skinny tail coming out of it, spermatozoa-like. I think the sperm thing spun around slowly, I don’t quite remember. Pretty soon a drop came down and we watched our first bit of No Comment news footage. And when the drop went back up the initial tableau had been cleared away, and we never saw it again! That sort of set the tone.
A member of the ensemble read an excerpt from *Europeana* in French with the translation projected onto a scrim. The ensemble moved cloud-shaped set pieces onto the floor, that was pretty. The percussionist did a chaotic solo, with the company doing a dance of warring large noodles - - like the flotation devices you use in a swimming pool, only painted black. I should mention that the piece (two and a half hours long) was punctuated throughout by members of the audience leaving. They just became part of the experience, like my sneeze.
Our favorite moment was a hilarious sequence of boulders rolling down ramps. They weren’t really boulders, they were probably made out of styrofoam or similar, but they made a hell of a lot of noise coming down the ramps, it was the one moment that really made me laugh. Another funny moment was No Comment footage of a baby race in Lithuania - - they took eight or ten babies, only old enough to crawl, and raced them against each other, with one or more parents at the finish line encouraging the babies to come to them. Really sick and hilarious.
The saxophone player had a very long solo, it might have been Philip Glass, which he played using circular breathing, one continuous phrase for about three to five minutes, incredible. This was his one beautiful moment, for much of the rest of the piece he honked on his instrument in a way that drove Stephanie bonkers. I'll quote her: "I thought I was going to slit my wrists a few times during his honking screaming escapades."
They did a strange sort of dance with members of the ensemble wielding very long wooden rakes (the handles were probably about ten feet long), two people facing each other with a large rock in between them. They moved the rock back and forth, making a scraping sound against the floor with the rake. This made Stephanie think of Sisyphus.
The ondes martenot player played “Fête des belles eaux” (“Festival of the beautiful waters”) by Olivier Messiaen (ironic because Stephanie and I were talking about Messaien at dinner). This is a rapturously beautiful piece and it featured the performance ensemble rolling large boxes around. The boxes had lights in them, shining up, and sometimes the wheels made a lot of noise and sometimes they were silent. This might have bothered me if I hadn’t known the music so well, but I was able to follow the music and decided to just roll with it. The moments of silence had a real impact. It was the most beautiful sequence of the show. This is what Stephanie said about it (it was also her favorite sequence): "I thought the boxes that went away from each other and then back together were supposed to be like amoebas that are attracted to each other and then sometimes splitting apart and going all over the place."
One sequence had a video projection of what looked like a giant barcode onto the performance space. It moved slowly from left to right on the floor and from right to left long the back wall, and the performance moved slowly, though maybe they were standing still and the barcode was moving? It was hard to tell, but fascinating to watch.
The finale featured huge drops of palm trees and some big pillars, other stuff like that, like the set for a Cecil B. DeMille movie. A few members of the ensemble came onstage dragging a huge drop painted to look like the interior of an opera house. it was flat on the floor, we were looking down on it. Then some other people came on with another drop, this one in an unusual shape done in gold lamé. They placed this on top of the other drop. And then a third drop and a fourth and a fifth, all piled on top of each other. This was the most satisfying depiction of the theme of History: there’s no grand design to History, no logic or order, just a lot of shit piled on top of other shit.
We both loved the whole piece and felt so lucky to have seen it. It seems like the kind of thing that I’ll be remembering for years. The greatest single element (of all the disparate elements of this whackadoodle assembly of theatrical magic) was the use of the space. The Drill Hall in the Armory is incredibly huge, 200 by 300 feet - - every performance I’ve seen there has used the space in an interesting way, but not really used it all and took it over to this degree. That was a special thrill.