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REVIEW: Stirring The Planet – A Lament (PROTOTYPE Festival)

A video still from Garin Nugroho’s The Planet – A Lament, now playing in the 2021 virtual incarnation of the PROTOTYPE festival.

It was with profound jealousy that I first learned of the PROTOTYPE festival of new music-theatre works. My editor had traveled to New York City to see the festival in January 2019 (before continuing on to Paris, naturally). He spoke of works like Infinite HotelTrain with No Midnight, and p r i s m – striking and highly original pieces whose conception and execution seemed talking points in their own right. As musical and dramatic experiences, they sounded superb. My jealousy only increased when Ellen Reid’s p r i s m won the Pulitzer Prize.

The annual PROTOTYPE festival is the brainchild of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Productions. The two organizations develop groundbreaking works for the stage, some of which are called operas and some are called musicals, and many of which don’t fit neatly into either category. This year, the festival pieces can be viewed online; all except one are available for free. Some of the 2021 festival pieces were previously produced by BMP, and are presented using archival video. Some are entirely new works born of COVID-19 restrictions and consciousness. If you lived in New York City, you can even experience one in an actual space (with advance registration and little in the way of company).

To start out my PROTOTYPE festival experience, I chose Garin Nugroho’s The Planet – A Lament, a sort of song cycle set to a series of dance tableaus. Beautiful backdrops, projected film, and eye-catching costumes and makeup complete the production. It’s a piece that will make you vividly miss live theatre: vivid in its visuals, thought provoking, and languid in its meditations. It’s also very unlike any work that you might now from Minnesota, with a creative team and a cast of singers and dancers drawn from Papua, at the very eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.

A performance still from The Planet – A Lament. Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.

As you might expect from the title, The Planet – A Lament has more than a little environmental commentary. When it premiered at the Asia TOPA festival a year ago, the timing was striking, with out-of-control wildfires raging across Australia. As a large egg is passed from character to character and scene to scene, there’s probably an implied warning – probably, since you’ll have to guess at the exact narrative of some of the events.

Many of the impressions that The Planet – A Lament leaves are visual – the diaphanous rippling of a curtain recalling wafting smoke, irridescant sheets tumbling gloriously to the ground, silhouettes, and rotating dance lines against the supermoon to beat all supermoons. This is not a piece for idle listening: it rewards being glued to the screen and drinking in the full sensory palette. That’s not a bad metaphor for the work and the world.

The PROTOTYPE festival continues online through January 16.


Amy Donahue