Monk and Chong back in a double bill
New York — Talent generates its own momentum. Meredith Monk and Ping Chong have plenty of both. As artists in a variety of media, Ms. Monk and Mr. Chong have developed styles and approaches all their own. Monk's singing includes cries and whoops and glottal sounds, for example, while Chong's onstage gestures often fall between dance and theatrical movements.
With such unconventional methods, Monk and Chong might have found it hard to build an audience in this age of mass-marketed ``mainstream'' culture. Yet they're constantly active, both alone and as a team.
Monk's latest credits include a song in the movie ``True Stories,'' an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a music-theater piece at La Mama, and an album for a West German record label. Coming soon is an ECM/Polygram Classics album called ``Do You Be,'' an opera for the Houston Grand Opera, a stage work for a dance company, and a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Chong is fresh off two performance pieces, ``Kindness'' and ``The Angels of Swedenborg,'' which were seen in Boston and Venice, among other cities. A revival of his ``Nosferatu'' just closed in Minneapolis, and two new plays are in active development.
Both are working on feature films, meanwhile. Monk's is called ``The Book of Days'' and Chong's is titled ``Charlie Chan - A Movie.''
Even while moving ahead so fast, though, Monk and Chong are never too busy to look back at their past work and put on return engagements, from time to time, so new audiences can discover it. Their recent revival of ``The Travelogue Series,'' first presented about 10 years ago and restaged this month at the Joyce Theater, showed them at their most original and uncompromising.
The show is subtitled ``Paris/Venice-Milan/Chacon,'' and that's where it takes place. The first and second acts have an Old World atmosphere - contrasting Continental elegance with tragic overtones of 20th-century history and making sardonic comments on European class and cultural systems. The third act moves to a New Mexico community, which boasts a population of 84, and takes on an earthy American flavor.
It's characteristic of Monk and Chong that they use a modest word like ``travelogue'' in naming their piece. They aren't out to give us major revelations or stunning epiphanies. They simply want to suggest insights and associations through modest theatrical means - small gestures, unexpected costumes, intermittent music, occasional words, offbeat juxtapositions - that encourage audience members to complete the allusive equations themselves.
This isn't a viscerally exciting show, and it has rusty spots when its energy and inspiration levels sink below the yawning point. Yet its sense of stillness and calm makes it an uncommonly gentle experience. Its revival was a valuable complement to the cascade of new Monk and Chong projects.