The battlement doors open and a woman on a chestnut horse enters the Armory of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. She is the promotory to the serene setting of ‘Battle Hymns’ a dance oratorio by Pultizer Prize winning composer David Lang collaborating with Leah Stein Dance and The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. This work is both an artistic achievement and profound meditation on war. Laing adapts lyrics from Stephen Foster making them more intimate and scores stirring words from Lincoln and a Civil War letter from a soldier to his wife.
Leah Stein’s choreography is both undecorated and expressive. Regimented formations break away to the dancers scattered, frenzied and bringing human order to chaos. Symbolized movement of camaraderie and bodies being attacked led to unwritten battlefield scenarios. The movement is cumulative and a completely interlocking component to the sea of music that floats through. At points the dancers move in and out of the choir.
Two climatic passages- one a man stands in front of a military vehicle with shopping bags recalling Tiananmen Square, the dancers load in a vehicle and are spilled in violence friezes and a central passage with the regimentation moving at double speed with violent variations. Lang’s sonic architecture fills the hanger space of the Armory as well as our hearts and minds.
This premiere is part of Peregrine Arts ambitious HIDDEN CITY series of performance events at Philadelphia landmarks both active and fallow.