Ursonate

Multimedia Lecture

Johannesburg artist, William Kentridge interrogates the theme of Dada in this new performance piece based on the seminal 1932 sound poem Ursonate - a poetic and musical work by renowned dada artist Kurt Schwitters. Unlike a classical sonata, Ursonate did not require musical instruments for its performance, just the human voice. 

Kentridge's version of Ursonate differs from that of other performers in that he demonstrates his ability as an actor and director, orienting the work not only to the listener but also to the viewer. Whereas the resonance of other renditions of Ursonate can be captured by ear, Kentridge's rendition has to be seen. 

The artist reads the words from a score, but in a dynamic and engaging way, gesticulating emphatically to draw the viewer's attention to his embodied presence on the stage. A paper screen above the stage displays a constant flow of animated images of the artist's drawings, which are orchestrated to fit the flow of his performance. In the cadenza, the piece concludes with the arrival of the soprano Ariadne Greif and two other musicians from the Knights, one playing a French horn. Taking up the poem with rival vivacity, Ms. Greif engages Mr. Kentridge in an electrifying duet. More polished than any vintage Dada performance, and richer in freely accessible humor, Kentridge’s “Ursonate” nonetheless pays homage to its predecessors by demonstrating how helpful the language of absurdism can still be in addressing a world that makes no sense. 

This multimedia performance piece mixes spoken word, animated video, and improvised music featuring William Kentridge, soprano Ariadne Greif in collaboration with members of the Brooklyn based ensemble, The Knights—a collective of adventurous musicians, dedicated to transforming the orchestral experience and eliminating barriers between audiences and music. It is set on a stage of reclaimed wood and a pasted paper screen. 

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CREDITS

Director William Kentridge

Libretto based on Kurt Schwitters 

Set Designer Sabine Theunissen 

Video Editor Janous Fouche

Artist/Performer William Kentridge 

Soprano Adriadne Greif 

Musicians Members of The Knights Horn, Percussion