Performed at UCLA’s Royce Hall, The Day marks the collaboration between multiple renowned artists. Former New York City Principal Ballerina Wendy Whelan brings to life choreography by Lucinda Childs, set to music by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer David Lang, performed live by cellist Maya Beiser. The sixty-minute duet between dancer and cellist features two parts: the day and world to come. Steeped in simplicity, the show meditates on mortality, aging and memory.

Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser in <i>The Day</i> © Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA
Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser in The Day
© Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA

Based on the prompt, “I remember the day I,” a text of crowd-sourced internet quotes accompanies the first part. A video projection shows Beiser and Whelan reciting these personal statements, which last throughout the first half of the piece. Onstage, Beiser brandishes her cello on a raised platform, while Whelan perches on a stool. The choreography moves between a series of geometric poses, enhanced by a series of graceful props. Whelan holds string between her hands, taut like the bow of the cello. She plucks the strings and flings them offstage. Dressed in white sheet, Whelan displays her pristine arches and long lines, captured by the long strokes of the cello and the spoken word.

Bathed in white and yellow light, her performance demonstrates the beauty in simplicity, carefully shifting between poses and props. She pulls long white ropes from the right side of the stage, balancing as she shifts her weight. Her own costume becomes integral to the choreography, part of the constant shifting and uncovering as she moves the sheet into different positions.

Maya Beiser and Wendy Whelan in <i>The Day</i> © Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA
Maya Beiser and Wendy Whelan in The Day
© Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA

The sparse choreography of the first section allows the video projections to take center-stage. Sometimes, the projections mimic Whelan’s movement, while other times serving to add to the mood of the piece. At one point, Whelan faces the back of the stage as black and white photos of her life are scattered across the screen. Later, the video displays a time lapse of a train station. Each element adds to the sense of nostalgia, as well as the sense of the continual passage of time. The first half ends when Whelan returns dressed in black, and she finally addresses Beiser, looking the cellist in the eye. A video of a cello crashing to the ground plays.

The second part, world to come, begins when Beiser and Whelan switch places; Whelan climbs the platform, while Beiser moves to the front of the stage. Absent of vivid video projections and spoken word, this section features Whelan’s movement. In contrast to the minimalist poses of the first section, Childs’ choreography becomes more expressive and free in the second section, allowing the audience to watch Whelan pay tribute to her years of ballet performance. Her supple arms create long lines, carrying through motifs of the shapes from the first half. Every movement that edges on balletic shifts into contemporary endings.

Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser in <i>The Day</i> © Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA
Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser in The Day
© Reed Hutchinson and CAP UCLA

The performative nature of Whelan becomes evident in this section. She repeatedly slides down the ramp from the platform where she dances, and each time, it feels decidedly choreographed. Whelan never touches her own body, and her movement lacks sensuality. Occasionally, the simplicity comes across as cold and uncaring, the gestures inauthentic. Whelan frequently stares toward the audience, but never actually looks at anyone, creating a sense of crushing isolation.

The work ends as Beiser draws long bow strokes and begins breathy singing. A white sheet drops from the ceiling and Whelan rolls in it, entangled in a symbolic burial shroud. The Day tests the limits of simplicity in choreography and stage design. Each moment appears carefully crafted, so much so that much of the work reads performatively. Still, the meditative quality allows the audience to reflect on mortality in a gentle way. Collaboration between artistic mediums allows The Day to experiment with theme and minimalism, encouraging the audience to consider their own experiences with aging and memory.

***11