On Sincerity (related to Trajal Harrell’s “Quartet for the End of Time”)

Trajal Harrell’s new piece drew me into a quiet (though filled with music) world that often bypassed my thoughts and went straight to feeling.

As an audience member, I was challenged in the best of ways. I was trusted to find my own way into the piece. I was given time to find deeper ways to engage repetition, subtlety and presence. I felt safe to find the ways in which my experience and the art could interweave.

I hadn’t expected this. I thought I might be confronted with yet another work that screamed at me (in voice or in body) from the stage, inviting me to feel uncool for actually caring (or showing that I care) about the art and even about life.

In program notes, Harrell’s dramaturg Julie Perrin asks, “ Is sincerity on stage a new form of heroism?”

Reading this question after the performance helped me see why I had responded so strongly to the piece. (A chronically sincere and earnest person, I can’t even get my Facebook updates to have the requisite funny and ironic tone.) And it left me feeling two things: First of all, furious that the question is actually relevant. Second, hopeful that my experimental contemporary dance community could be moving out of a self-absorbed teenager phase (See Andy Horwitz on Culturebot) and into a more thoughtful and mature place. Not a staid or conservative place, but a place with a different kind of engagement.

I felt like I had seen a sincere piece, not a piece about sincerity. And this is interesting. I wonder how much I saw and responded to sincerity because that is what I am interested in seeing and hoping to see.

Harrell’s work takes its name, and some inspiration, from music written by Olivier Messiaen while interned in a prison camp during World War II.

I felt this in the honesty and presence of the piece (at least my impression of the piece). In a prison camp, in the End of Time, in our time, I don’t think there’s time for too-cool, for insincerity. The world needs more than that. When faced with atrocity and death, failed economies and global relationships, even when faced with human kindness and talent, what is the best and truest we can offer?

link to a first response poem on this piece

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