Tenebrae Et Lux (Darkness and Light)Tenebrae Et Lux (Darkness and Light) is worth seeing for the extraordinary performance of the St George's Cathedral Consort alone. However this isn’t your classic recital, and in this Perth International Arts Festival exclusive, the Consort is joined by dancers and a “light based installation” to create a sensory and visually challenging piece.

Creator Benjamin Bergery, a Franco-American new media artist based in Paris, was commissioned by PIAF to create an installation to accompany Carlo Gesualdo’s haunting 17th century Tenebrae Responsoria

Gesualdo’s music is in the manner of sacred text madrigals, and he was particularly fond of dissonant notes between singers. Bergery has used his artistic licence to rearrange the song order, so they form a loose three part structure based on the Passion (of Christ) story. 

Set in the soaring Winthrop Hall on the University of WA campus, the audience (who on opening night were getting pretty impatient and grumpy waiting in the heat knowing there was air-conditioning inside), have to walk across an expanse of polished floor boards to get to the small block of tiered seating. No latecomers allowed in this piece, as the entire hall is used at various time in the performance. 

Bergery, along with his fellow artist Jim Campbell (who is mentioned and thanked in the program, but not given a biography) have created a light and audio visual show that he hopes will “serve as a distinct, visual counterpoint to the magical music ...” He also states in the program notes that he “decided early on to abandon the idea of synchronicity between light and music ...”

Distinct, counterpoint and synchronicity are the key words here. The more I think about this performance, the more I struggle to combine the three elements of music, dance and Bergery’s light based “installation”. I am using the words from the program – to me, it is a lighting design. Definitely nothing wrong with that, but call it what it is! 

Bergery is correct in that his “installation” lacks any synchronicity between the light and the music. At certain points it felt frustratingly out of time, as if the lights were programmed to a different piece of music. Winthrop Hall is used effectively, with the first floor alcoves lit up, and projections on the opposite wall to the audience. Overall however, the whole effect needed to be toned down. Given the propensity for the dimmed lighting state, I hesitate to say there was too much, too often, but, it was too much. 

Local dancer and performer James Berlyn directs Tenebrae Et Lux, and worked collaboratively with the (unnamed) dancers to choreograph the piece. The dancing is contemporary, heavily stylised, and erratic. It is only with the aid of the text projected on the opposite wall (I kissed you, I betrayed you etc) at the start of each piece that I could interpret what the dance was about. It was visually something to look at other than the singers. Was it necessary? That is debatable. 

In fact the most enjoyable and evocative moments in the 50 minute performance were when everything except the music stopped. The lights were still and dim, the dancers in tableaux, and the Consort filled the venue with gloriously melodious music. 

Conductor Joseph Nolan has once again created a masterpiece with the St George’s Cathedral Consort. The complexity of Gesualdo’s work sounds like child’s play coming out of the mouths of the 18 person group, with their perfect intonation and timing. Being able to move whilst singing classical Latin can’t be an easy feat yet the group managed it with ease (and bare feet). Spine tingling, emotive, united and balanced, these are the words that come to mind when I think of the music.

Were the dancers and light installation successfully merged into the piece? I don’t think so. Is Tenebrae Et Lux worth seeing? Purely for the stunning music from the St George's Cathedral Consort, book your ticket now.

Perth International Arts Festival Commission
Tenebrae et Lux (Darkness and Light)
Benjamin Bergery and St George’s Cathedral Consort

Venue: Winthrop Hall | 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley
Dates: 10 – 18 Feb 2013
Tickets: $52.50 – $25
Bookings: www.perthfestival.com.au

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