'The Photographer/Far From the Truth' Next Wave dance-theater-music productions are trailblazing stuff; the whole is not the same as the sum of its parts. Not surprisingly, then, ''The Photographer/Far From the Truth'' (which arrived at the Opera House last Sunday) hardly lends itself to traditional critical standards. But to the extent that it can be evaluated as a theatrical experience, ''The Photographer'' is a good show.
Its subject is Eadweard Muybridge, a Victorian photographer whose studies of human and animal locomotion helped pave the way for motion pictures. The production focuses on his work and a major scandal in his life: his discovery of his wife's adultery, his shooting of his wife's lover, the trial and his acquittal.
A collaboration between Philip Glass (music), Joanne Akalaitis (direction), David Gordon (movement), and Robert Coe (book), it was first shown in October at the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Muybridge's photographs of men and women walking, leaping, and carrying things are coolly scientific as they break motion down into its component parts. Even so, the feeling of the photographs is lighthearted, filled with vitality. The same dichotomy of cool and light, exuberance and technicality, travels through the whole show.
''The Photographer'' is divided into three sections: drama, projected images, and dance. It opens with a melodramatic sketch of the adultery and shooting, culminating in a trial scene with the face of the actor playing Muybridge covering an enormous screen.
Philip Glass's music has flowered as it has evolved from minimalism. Here he uses flute, clarinet, saxophones, keyboards, synthesizers, and a strong, clear vocalist. The effect is winsome and compelling - and loud.
The second part consists of flashed images of Muybridge's photographs of the breakdown of motion. The music has a fiddling country feel that fits in well with movement in the photographs. You get a sense of the progress of the photographer's career.
The third part, dance, though pretty to watch, has the least focus or connection with the rest. Now a widower, Muybridge stands isolated in the crowd that swirls around him. Their movements are as simple as those of his photographs, and there is a similarly lighthearted feeling. The dancing is mostly adequate, occasionally exceptional. But it goes on about 10 minutes too long.
There is a transcendent beauty to some of the effects, particularly the long strips of brightly colored silk that ripple in the breeze and fall softly to the stage.
You don't get the same close, involved feeling in this production that you might in a good play. Your attention is splintered between simultaneously occurring events, and your eye leaps around trying to find out which is most important. According to Next Wave thinking, all the elements are important. The music, dance, projected images, and drama are all joined together as discrete parts, whose individuality is valued and not shaved down to fit a theme. What Glass and associates are aiming for is an '80s version of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, a ''total work of art'' which joins these elements into an overwhelming theatrical experience.
It takes a new kind of audienceship to appreciate fully such Next Wave productions. There's no linear sense of plot, and structure is thrown out the window. But with new eyes and ears, one finds a lot to appreciate - intriguing music, glorious visuals, and (most of the time) a sense of loosely defined oneness.
This is the first production of the Next Wave Festival: Boston '84, produced by Modern Productions with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Performance artist Laurie Anderson appears April 19. The Trisha Brown Company from Jacob's Pillow will appear April 25. An exhibit of Muybridge's work is currently being shown at Vision Gallery, 216 Newbury St. - Catherine Foster and David G. Wilck