Erik Satie’s Vexations, a score for piano composed in the late 1800s, has long been considered at once a grand and absurd joke, as well as an exercise in melancholy. Satie’s instructions are to play Vexations slowly 840 times, transforming a relatively short piece into a daunting behemoth. This 19-hour performance cycle will also include an ensemble of dancers performing an original piece set to Vexations and altered over time through the use of a graphic score.
Vexations will be performed at the Chopin Theater, Chicago, IL, beginning on Friday, March 15th at 10 pm and ending at 5 pm on Saturday, March 16th. Attendees are free to leave and re-enter. Musical Director Emerald Catron and Choreographer Emilee Lord will be joined by an ensemble of pianists and dancers.
Historically, performances of this piece have turned into studies on the effects of long-term repetition and tested the endurance of the audience and the performers. From the first time it was staged by John Cage to more recent iterations at the Guggenheim and Tate Modern, the illusive non-melodic nature of the work has haunted, perplexed, and poked fun at the very nature of classical performance. This work has not been performed in Chicago in over 20 years.
The intention behind putting this show together is two-fold. First, to honor a more complicated and capricious piece of Satie’s oeuvre. And secondly, to create an environment for the audience to rest in; to allow for the repetition and the fallout inherent in multiple iterations to point towards rumination, self-observance, and (ideally) a sense of catharsis over time.
Of the dance element, Emilee Lord says, there is an unsettling sway between quiet and disquiet within the piano piece itself, and a game of theme and variation that upends our typical understanding of that compositional structure as being readable/hearable. My aim, as choreographer on the project, is to mimic this sway and this game with dance phrasing while allowing for its performance textures to rest solidly within the context of long durational performance art and the art historical use of the graphic score to organize repetition.
This performance will take place between showings of The Ruse of Medusa by Erik Satie, directed by dado, also at the Chopin Theater for a month-long run.