Few members of the College knew what was happening at the Loeb under the guise of Siddhartha. Rumors appeared from time to time--"Cross-cultural music-drama...Indian music...soloists from the Martha Graham company." But no one knew what the end product would be.
It concerns the life of Siddhartha from the time of his departure from home to his ascent to Buddhahood. He tries to attain satisfaction in ascetic life, in erotic love, and in business. He is accused by the "League" of "dividing his life ...of failing to perceive unity." He does, however, attain this unity and with it the satisfaction he has been seeking.
The story is told in dance, music, and drama; the two major characters are each represented by a dancer, a singer, and an actor. I think I see what James T. Anderson, the composer and librettist, had in mind: to tell a story successfully through the medium of one art form is an accomplishment limited by the possibilities of that form. Why not, then, tell the story in many forms, deepen the experience, and ultimately create a far richer understanding for the audience? It makes sense in theory, but not in this particular application.
In combining so many elements, Mr. Anderson undercuts his total effect. The dancers dance. Then the singers replace the dancers on stage; one must immediately ignore the movement of the singers, and concentrate on their singing, something that's very hard to do when the dancers are performing in front of them. For the actors, the music disappears, except for the drone, and one is left with words. Had the material and the performers in all three media been equally good. I could only remark on the success of the syntheses. But there is no comparison.
The dancers--Robert Cohan, Matt Turney, William Constanza, and chorus--turned in performances that I will long remember. Mr. Cohan, the director and choreographer, combined the forms of Near-Eastern folk, and modern, dance into scenes that left the audience breathless. The music was well suited to their dancing though it paradoxically did not give the singers enough good material to turn in convincingly dramatic performances, or even very interesting ones. The sung portions of the score were not particularly difficult, and the singers did not make too much of them. For the sake of continuity, I wish the spoken dialogue hadn't been included. Aside from what they were saying, the young teen-agers who were cast could bring no conviction to their roles: for them, it was declamatory speech, well executed, but meaningless.
Indian music seemed to predominate in the score. The best moments occurred in the dances, when the drone of the Indian instruments, the complex rhythmic cycles, and peter Pease's creditable performance as chorus, combined to form a whole that I found reminiscent of Stravinsky's ballet music in its uncanny suitability to the dance: they far outshone the rest of the score.
Mr. Anderson tells me that this is the first work he has attempted on this scale. His conception is ambitious, and it is obvious that performers and technicians have put a lot of their talent and time producing it. Mr. Anderson's thorough understanding of Indian music is apparent, and the synthesis succeeds on one level. But the total result might have been more successful if he had worked separately on all the forms he employed before combining so many of them into one work.