Reaching for Nothing (Water's Thirst)

(2008) 110 min.

Mezzo-soprano, viola, 2 celli, percussion.
(Interdisciplinary work created in collaboration with visual artist Dereck Revington, with David Earle, choreographer.)


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Reaching for Nothing: Water's Thirst is a 110 minute audio-visual meditation in which the breath of space, light and sound move as currents in a stream, crossing and weaving a four dimensional tapestry in which the audience is immersed.

In her essay "The Anthropology of Water", the poet Anne Carson writes: "Since ancient times, pilgrimages have been conducted from place to place, in the belief that a question can travel into an answer as water into thirst…" Theoretical physicists from around the globe travel to the Perimeter Institute on such a quest. Within the institute there is a theatre: a stage for sounding the currents of subatomic speculation and research. It is also a place of crossing, where local and international artists are invited to stage similarly ineffable questions through a visceral mathematics of sound and light presented to a larger community.

The work of a composer is normally measured in time; the work of an architect conventionally measured in space. As collaborators, we began by considering the temporal aspects of space and the spatial aspects of sound. Soon, underlying shape-shifting and time-shifting themes began moving through the piece. Reaching for Nothing: Water's Thirst is not an opera, a dance or a film; there is no narrative or program to follow. It is what might happen when one risks dissolving categories, as currents in a stream interflow, wind and unwind in a perpetual dance of becoming.

Much of the movement through time and through space in this piece is inspired by, and derived from, the movement of river water seen in the long opening overture. As with the river so the auditory and the visual interweave, follow or lead, mirror or echo one another in continuous metamorphoses, births and deaths. Time unfolds slowly in this piece, based on a pulse of a "beat" every three seconds and created in such a way as to allow for a "breathing" between elements of the work.

In Reaching for Nothing: Water's Thirst we try to make sense of our existence through the visual and the aural and from a range of perspectives, including those of the philosopher, the poet, the priest, the shaman and the scientist.

The work is in nine sections, each anchored by a specific allegorical or poetic text. These are ancient recurring themes found in many myths, poems and sacred texts from both eastern and western traditions and through which the redemptive powers of art and imagination continuously flow.

In some scenes libretti, drawn from their underlying texts, are spoken, sung, whispered or chanted (in Sanskrit, English, Spanish or Italian). In others the underlying texts serve purely as catalysts from which the composer, the visual artist and the choreographer, draw their material and inspiration. In this way shared focus and attention is attained while being held within an overall visual and temporal structure as a pattern of mirrors and inversions moves backwards and forwards through the piece.

The selected texts have complex affinities and correspondences and in this work are linked through patterns of mirroring, doubling and reversal. Section 1 mirrors Section 8; Section 2 mirrors Section 7; Section 3 mirrors 6; and Section 4 mirrors Section 5. Imagine a wave rolling towards a mirror: Part 1 is the wave; Part 2 is its mirror image running in reverse time. In Part 1 an ocean wave slowly arises, crests, falls, coils and overflows; in Part 2 the wave unfurls, rises, crests and slowly dissolves into nothing.

Design Team
Peter Hatch: Co-Creator/ Director/Composer
Dereck Revington: Co-Creator/ Director and Designer (stage, lighting, videos, masks)
David Earle: Choreography
Laird Macdonald: Lighting Design/ Associate Set Design /Technical Direction
John D. S. Adams: Sound Design/Audio Engineer
Anne-Marie Donovan: Associate Director

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