Brooklyn's cresting 'Next Wave'
New York — Once again, the future is breaking out in Brooklyn. Another season of ''The Next Wave'' has opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, offering concerts and operas by an impressive list of forward-looking talents. The festivities continue through Dec. 23, and many attractions will then travel to other cities.
Devoted to new and unexpected trends in the performing arts, ''The Next Wave'' has a special liking for artistic teamwork. This season's opener fitted the bill perfectly - ''The Games,'' a joint effort by Meredith Monk and Ping Chong, two gifted artists who move effortlessly among the worlds of music, theater, and dance. Labeled an ''opera/music-theater collaboration,'' it came to BAM for its American premiere after bowing at the Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz in West Berlin.
If it had more snap and substance, ''The Games'' would make a good introduction to the kind of image-filled, multimedia spectacle that Monk and Chong (among others) have pioneered. Instead of a plot, the action is based on a concept - the idea that a future world might use games as the basis of order and social control. The mood is varied, moving from childlike whimsy to a lonely, meditative air. The stage is colorfully decked out and often filled with movement, from parading and flag-waving to dancing and moonwalking.
For viewers familiar with Monk and Chong, it's easy to spot their individual contributions. Monk composed the music, of course, using instruments as diverse as violins and a Flemish bagpipe. The show's playful moments, the sounds in place of speech, and the folkloric touches also bear her stamp. Chong's trademarks include the science-fictional setting and the touching use of everyday events and phrases, as when a simple sentence - ''The lights are down, the beds are made, the water is changed'' - becomes a comforting, almost ritualistic formula.
The trouble is that none of this adds up to very much. Some episodes are visually striking, and some of the music is thrilling. But the emotions rarely seem deeply felt, and too many of the metaphors are obvious or muddled. This comes as a surprise, since Chong's last show on his own - called ''A Race'' - used a similar basic concept to brilliant effect. ''The Games'' is too big and showy for its own good - spectacle crowds out the emotional resonance of earlier work by both its creators.
While there are no immediate plans to tour ''The Games,'' other efforts by Monk and Chong are coming up soon. Monk will celebrate her 20th anniversary as a performer with several New York events - a retrospective concert Feb. 7 at Carnegie Hall; a video show and ''sound installation'' at the Whitney Museum of American Art in April and May; and revivals of two major works - ''Quarry'' and ''Turtle Dreams'' - at the La Mama theater next spring. She and her vocal ensemble will tour the Midwest and Southwest next March; her trio will perform in Texas and California next month; she will give solo recitals in Spain and Switzerland this fall; and a book on her work is to be published by Performing Arts Journal. Chong and his theater group, the Fiji Company, will present a revival of their ''Nuit Blanche'' and a new work, ''Nosferatu,'' at La Mama next January through March.
''The Next Wave'' also has big plans. October events include a Remy Charlip dance called ''Ten Men,'' beginning next Wednesday; the mixed-media ''Democracy in America,'' by Tim Miller, starting Oct. 24; and a major new work by composer Steve Reich called ''The Desert Music,'' which he describes as his largest piece to date. Its text comes from poetry by William Carlos Williams, and the first American performance will be Oct. 25.
Next month will bring the Elisa Monte Dance Company (Nov. 1-4) in works including the slithery ''Treading,'' set to Reich music, and the primal ''Pigs and Fishes,'' to a Glenn Branca piece. Richard Landry, late of the Philip Glass Ensemble, will give a Nov. 10 recital. Arnie Zane and Bill T. Jones will present ''Secret Pastures'' starting Nov. 15, another of their dance collaborations. More dance arrives Nov. 28 from the Mark Morris Dance Group, and the eclectic Penguin Cafe Orchestra opens a two-day engagement Dec. 8.
Winding up the season will be a revival of ''Einstein on the Beach,'' an opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass that hasn't been seen anywhere since its Metropolitan Opera House performances in 1976. Based on images associated with Einstein's life and times, it's an elaborate stage spectacular, rigorously structured yet somehow as free-floating as the spaceship that is one of its motifs. The musical score, supplemented by an eccentric collection of spoken words, stands on its own as one of the great artworks this century has produced. Its two-week BAM run, starting Dec. 11, will precede a major tour that promises to be an aesthetic highlight of the '80s.