Laurie Anderson's Beautiful Delusion

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“I’ve been asleep for 20 years,” says Laurie Anderson in a video interview (posted below) about her performance piece Delusion, which made its New York premiere last week as part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s yearly Next Wave Festival and continues into early October. She doesn’t mean this in the Rip Van Winkle sense. Rather, she’s talking about the cumulative time she’s spent asleep in her 63-year-old life and the dreams that provide much of Delusion’s content.

Even those who don’t generally go in for performance art will enjoy the legendary Anderson’s latest work, which is, more than anything, a meditation on mortality. Joined solely by a viola player and a musician toting perhaps the largest saxophone we’ve ever seen in real life, Anderson and her electric violin, along with a laptop and a slew of lower-fi electronics, journey through a series of haunting dreams. In one, she holds her full-grown dog like a mother who’s just been given her newborn baby, then realizes that this ideal moment is the result of a grotesque situation she’s orchestrated, in which her pet was sewn into her womb so she could give birth to it.

When Anderson speaks in her own voice, it’s with her characteristically lilting, diffuse tone. She gets personal — many of her musings on death stem from the memory of her own mother’s passing, which was complicated by Anderson’s realization that she didn’t love her parent. Childhood is an equally pervasive preoccupation, with fears for the future and memories of the past always threatening to devour the present.

Delusion also features interludes from Anderson’s long-time male alter ego, Fenway Bergamot, who speaks in grander terms, about the collapse of great civilizations and a fairly recent Supreme Court ruling affirming corporate personhood. In the largest sense, we’re still talking about mortality, but on a larger, systemic scale.

Taken together with its dramatic musical transitions — often, it was hard to believe that only three people were onstage — and striking projections (a blackboard palimpsest, a violent rainstorm), Delusion certainly qualifies as multimedia art. But through her warmth and humor, the wiry, thoughtful Anderson ensures that it’s accessible. What she’s really given us is an evening with a master storyteller whose command of music and video only highlights the power of her tales.

Watch Laurie Anderson talk about Delusion in the video below and click through for images from the show.

Photo credit: Rahav Segev

Photo credit: Rahav Segev

Photo credit: Rahav Segev

Photo credit: Rahav Segev

Photo credit: Rahav Segev