TIMES SQUARE ‘ERWARTUNG’
The heart of Times Square after dark probably isn’t the most genial setting for Schoenberg and the mournful atonality of “Erwartung,” or “Expectation,” his 1909 monologue for a solo soprano, and a pillar of musical modernism. But the South African artist Robin Rhode, who will stage the work there in the fall as part of the 10th anniversary of Performa, the performance-art biennial, said that when he heard Times Square was a possibility for a piece based on the Schoenberg work, he leapt at it.
“I love the idea of bringing to life a trained and informed structure and having that play itself out in a very public way to a mostly unexpecting audience,” said Mr. Rhode, whose commission to create the piece was just announced, along with the commissions of several other prominent artists, for “Performa 15,” which will take place across the city Nov. 1 through Nov. 22.
“Erwartung” presents a lone woman, wandering in a moonlit forest, pining for a lost love. Mr. Rhode, 39, who often presents performances in public spaces that are based on drawings or sculpture, said he saw the narrative as a metaphor for black women in apartheid-era South Africa “waiting for men who had to leave for long periods to go work in mines, essentially in exile, or men held by the police, with no date of return.”
“I saw the skyscrapers as the forest and the billboards as the moonlight,” he said. “I imagined the soprano being lost in this kind of mass audience.” Of the work, which will take place in a domestic like stage setting marked off by doors used in low-income South African homes, Mr. Rhode added, “The risk factor of doing something like this in Times Square is immense, to put it lightly.”
Performa’s 2015 commissions will also include the artists Jesper Just, Francesco Vezzoli (in collaboration with the ballet dancer David Hallberg), Pauline Curnier Jardin and the choreographer Jérôme Bel, who will stage performances by an ensemble composed of both trained and untrained dancers. The commissions, which will include more artists to be named later, are being planned to coalesce around a loose focus of this year’s biennial on performance art’s deep historical roots, reaching at least to the Renaissance and spectacles like Leonardo’s machine-driven “Feast of Paradise” for the Sforza court in Milan in 1490.
“Robin has a wonderful mix of classical art history and on-the-street ideas, and I found that a really interesting combination in the context of what we’re trying to do this year,” said RoseLee Goldberg, Performa’s founder, who added that she hoped the biennial — which has presented 592 performances, worked with 732 artists and played to more than 200,000 viewers over its first decade — would be seen as having “truly legitimized performance in the academic and museum world and beyond.”
“When we started, there were people who would wriggle their noses and say, ‘That’s weird,’ ” Ms. Goldberg said, “and I think what we’ve done is changed a lot of minds.”