Laurie Anderson is one of the 20th and 21st centuries most outstanding talents. Avant garde musician, performance artist, monologuist extraordinaire, raconteur, illustrator, filmmaker, painter, video and film artist, and composer, Anderson has been at the forefront of art performance, creating technologies (along with several instruments like the tape bow violin, the talking stick, and voice filters which she uses extensively in her work) and stunning special effects to help realize her fantastic vision on stage and off.
"Dirtday!" is the third piece in a talking trilogy that started in 2002 with "Happiness" and continued with 2004's "The End Of The Moon." Some themes that arc across all three pieces include observations about the state of the country both literally and figuratively. Although Anderson's work has always included the "personal-IS-political" ethos, it seems to be manifesting itself more clearly and directly in her more recent works. And I believe that is because the country has never been this splintered and shaky in our living memories. In "Dirtday!" she returned again and again to an image of the country torn asunder:
"I dreamed the country was a a battleground...
At least I think it was a dream."
"I dreamed the United States was designated a battleground.
Memories and dreams being what they are, the country is looking a lot like a battleground."
I have seen Laurie Anderson many, many times over the years (I even saw her legendary "United States I - IV" in the early 80s), and "Dirtday!" feels at once familiar and new. At play is her very subtle sense of humor and her ability to temper dark subjects with a wryness that comes from her objective observational style, all underscored by a shifting, haunting soundscape that ebbs and flows. But it seems that the piece is light on stories (I recall past shows being crammed full of fascinating anecdotes), and more colored by a mournful music. Her violin pieces all seem to be crying and in despair. This seems to be in contrast to the celebratory reason for adding an exclamation point to the title of this show. These are dark times for us not only as a country, but as a planet. Anderson obviously feels this and she expressed it in simple ways, like a section she called "Words that start with 'the'..."
The middle of the show was punctuated by a lovely spoken interlude, sans music, delivered from an easy chair, that was about the passing of her beloved dog Lolabelle, musings about Tibetan Buddhism, and the nature of love and loss. It was the most personal moment I have ever seen from Anderson. It puts the rest of her material in perspective, letting us know that she is genuine and earnest about all that she says.