Waiting for the Sibyl - The Moment Has Gone

Performance Theatre

Two works by William Kentridge

The 43-minute chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl and the 18-minute film with live score The Moment Has Gone comprise a singular program of South African artist William Kentridge’s work--an evening in the theater of visual and aural alchemy unlike anything else.

Waiting for the Sibyl, created in collaboration with choral director and dancer Nhlanhla Mahlangu and composer Kyle Shepherd, is a piece for three dancers and six singers that unfolds in a series of 5 short scenes, interrupted and revealed by the dropping and raising of the front curtain. The work incorporates signature elements of Kentridge’s visionary practice--projection, live performance, recorded music, and shadows cast by live performers on a hand-painted backdrop--to tell the story of the Cumaean prophetess Sibyl. She would write out a questioner’s fate on an oak leaf and place it at the mouth of her cave on a pile of others’ fates. But when you went to retrieve it, a breeze would blow up and swirl the leaves about, leaving you uncertain if you were learning another’s fate your own. The fact that your fate would be known, but you couldn’t know it, is the deep theme of our relationship of dread, of expectation, of foreboding towards the future.

Unspoken throughout but hovering over the opera is the fact that our contemporary Sibyl is the algorithm that will predict our future, our health, whether we’ll get a bank loan, whether we’ll live to 80, what our genetics will be. This certainty of an implacable mechanism that determines our outcome is juxtaposed against the desire for a more human connection to our destiny, an instinct to believe in the possibility of something other than the machine to guide us in how we see our future. The work is a profound, jarring, playful, and visually stunning meditation on what it means to be alive in our current moment in history, grappling afresh with humanity’s primordial task of making sense of the inherently tragic state of always knowing, yet never knowing, where our end will lead us--the cursed and blessed consciousness that makes us human.

The Moment Has Gone is a new 18-minute film with live solo piano score by Kyle Shepherd— one of South Africa’s leading progressive pianists and composers hat incorporates City Deep, the latest in Kentridge’s series of Soho Eckstein films, and sequences of the artist creating the work. In City Deep, Kentridge’s unique charcoal animation technique of successive erasure and redrawing conjures a non-linear story featuring his drawn alter ego Soho Eckstein, set between a municipal art museum (based on the Johannesburg Art Gallery) and an abandoned mining area at the edges of the city where an unofficial artisanal gold mining takes place. The action jumps; the museum collapses, Soho comes face to face with his fate, a solitary miner persistently works against his destiny. Interspersed throughout are images of the film’s creation, the artist making the images--always an action against destiny (a futile action).

Made at the same time as Waiting for the Sibyl, The Moment Has Gone incorporates phrases and ideas that reappear in the chamber opera, and an appearance by Sibyl herself.


  • 2020-06-21 00:00:00 2020-06-22 00:00:00 - Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Athens - Greece


  • 2019-09-10 00:00:00 2019-09-15 00:00:00 - Teatro Dell'Opera Di Roma (Teatro Costanzi), Roma - Italy


Creative  Team


William Kentridge   Concept and Director

Kyle Shepherd Music Director / Composer

Nhlanhla Mahlangu Associate Director / Choral Composer

Greta Goirus Costume Designer

Sabine Theunissen Set Designer

Urs Schönebaum Lighting Design

Žana Marović Projection Design

Stella Olivier Photography


Waiting for the Sybil is co-commissioned by Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg and Dramaten - Stockholm.