Meredith Monk retrospective: as varied as its creator

Between her recent Carnegie Hall debut and current American tour, Meredith Monk -- musician, dancer, director -- found time for a retrospective of her films and videotapes at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was a solid show, running more than two hours and presenting a hefty sample of her work in these media, dating from 1966 through last year. A half-dozen films and two videos were included.

Aside from noting their lack of ordinary plot and dialogue, the only way to generalize about these works is to call them as varied as Monk's own talents. In most respects they're very different from one another, holding little in common except a concern with movement that reflects her unquenchable love of dancing. (This love showed up even in her Carnegie Hall vocal concert, when she and other singers often broke into choreographed gesture and movement.)

Thus one of the best films, the 1975 ``Quarry,'' meshes performers and landscape into a continuous visual whole. By contrast, actors and their environment have a steadily shifting relationship in the 1981 ``Ellis Island.'' The videotape ``Paris,'' co-directed with Ping Chong, fits separate scenes and numbers into an audiovisual collage, while the more recent ``Turtle Dreams'' welds music, performances, and visual effects into a seamless flow.

What unified the program was a constant sense of inventiveness, which made its presence felt right away in such early pieces as the engaging ``Children'' and the abstract ``Ballbearing.'' Even when a work disappointed me, as ``Paris'' did, another usually repaired the damage; and the insinuating ``Turtle Dreams'' made a fine capper for the show.

Those wishing to encounter Monk and her company in person may catch their current tour, which brings them to Iowa City, Iowa, on March 15; Chicago on March 18; Minneapolis on March 18, 19, and 21-23; and Union, N.J., on March 27-28. In addition, her opera ``Quarry'' is due for a New York revival at La Mama this May.

Next on the Whitney Museum film and video slate is the Biennial Exhibition program, on-screen now through June 2, with an exciting lineup of movies, tapes, slide shows, and related performances.

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