The performing arts pioneer is fully present in her show, the first in a decade she has brought to the Walker.
"Dirtday!" -- the latest offering by spry, youthful performing arts pioneer Laurie Anderson, 65 -- is the type of work that provokes attempts to pin it down descriptively.
The 90-minute show combines words, delivered with vocal filters so she sounds like herself or a man, with Anderson's arresting violin- and keyboard-produced music. The result is something akin to a free-associative dream where tangents ripple out and double back onto themselves. Sometimes the production, which takes place on a shadowy stage with many lit candles and traces of prehistoric fog, feels like a chiaroscuro painting. The words and music act like light and dark in beautiful balance.
At other times, the whole thing feels like a quasi-religious experience, with Anderson serving as the witty, wise and insightful leader.
It's impossible to impose any one narrative structure or framework on "Dirtday!," which opened its weekend of spell-casting Friday at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The production demands a certain surrender from the audience, and is best enjoyed like a swim in strong currents. Just let the undertow take you where it wants you to go.
The destinations range from the back of your eyelids to all over the universe. In "Dirtday!," Anderson muses about phosphenes, the light that you see when you close your eyes, as well as other Earths out there. She wonders about Mars and its 40-mile-high cliffs. She investigates the space between dying and rising.
Her queries about death were triggered by her aged rat terrier, Lolabelle. A vet suggested that she put her dog down. She does no such thing. Anderson, instead, revels in her pooch, a neighborhood star. She shows a video of the dog, which is from an attentive breed, playing the piano. She also quotes the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
"Dirtday!" is a well-scripted work (she reads and plays violin from a script) that feels fluid and free-form. I took it in both with eyes wide open and closed. I also felt myself getting warmer from the effect of this production.
That Anderson kept her Twin Cities engagement is commendable, given that New York, where she lives, is still reeling from the devastation and power losses caused by superstorm Sandy. There was no question about her state of mind at the Walker.
She made a few references that seemed to incorporate the storm, including to waves washing away shorelines. She also describes New York, as seen from above, as a city of glass and light. That image, like many in "Dirtday!," vividly evoked beauty and delicacy, both of which are reflected in Anderson's startlingly hypnotic show.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390