The following is a review of Katinka Kleijn’s and Lia Kohl’s performance “Water On The Bridge” in the pool of the Eckhart Park Natatorium on March 16th, 2019.
The first thing we see is a row of 30 cellos waiting to be held near the edge of the water at Eckhart Park’s Ida Crown Natatorium, a beautiful window-lined space defined by a gently arching ceiling. Slowly, the two performers, Katinka Kleijn and Lia Kohl (both accomplished cellists) appear, dressed in androgynous, sheer blue smocks over their bathing suits. One wears a red swim cap, the other a one yellow one, like two characters from a storybook— somewhat but not entirely human. At the edge of the pool they find rubber gloves, also red and yellow, waiting for them; they put them on and get to work.
The two walk with purpose towards the waiting cellos and proceed to cleanse each of the instruments, dipping them into the water and rubbing them down with their rubber gloves. This creates the kind of squeaking sound you’d expect, but it is orchestrated into a varied rhythm for each of the cello bodies. A soundscape, composed by Dan Dehaan, consisting of similar pre-recorded sounds plays continuously in the background holds the piece together as a kind of framing device. Slowly each cello is cleansed, assessed, held in one form or another, and then either gently or aggressively tossed into the pool.
After the final cello is played and discarded Kleijn and Kohl enter the pool, first attending to one another and then turning their attention to the cellos, floating awkwardly, childlike on their backs. They gather the instruments, struggling to wrap their bodies around them, use them as floating devices. More often than not the cellos do not cooperate.
Are we witnessing a kind of tenderness or violence? A caring for or a destroying? This piece rides that line—as relationships do—with codependence, love, fear, and our desire to tame wrapped up with our desire to connect. “As cellists, we develop an intense relationship with the cello as an object, as an almost human-sized being. I’ve been playing for half my life, after that, the cello is almost like one’s own body” Kohl noted in conversation. While all of the cellos used in the piece would have otherwise ended up in the garbage (indeed, some had to be dramatically refurbished to even look like cellos), it is shocking to watch the instruments being thrown into the water. Yet this is what we are all here to see. We have come to watch these cellos be destroyed because the thought of it was implausible.
Kleijn and Kohl have been working with cellos and water for the last several years. Kleijn, currently a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and declared “Chicago’s First Lady of the Cello” by Timeout Chicago, is widely known for her innovative individual projects and experimental collaborations. Kohl is a multidisciplinary artist and cellist based in Chicago, as well as a curator and member of the acclaimed performance ensemble Mocrep. The first two iterations of what is now “Water on the Bridge” were collaborations with New Orleans-based cellist Helen Gillet and Chicago dancer Jasmine Mendoza, respectively, and took place on (and in) Lake Michigan. As Kohl explains, these early pieces were highly improvisational and experimental, both exploring the lake as a site of safe harbor and as an embarking point. While the performance at Eckhart Park still involved a significant level of improvisation, it was also more tightly woven in form, as well as the first version of the piece to use recorded sound.
Ultimately one leaves the performance with a sense of calm like nothing much has happened, only the beauty of everyday life played out before us in all its mess. The performance ends as simply as it begins. There is no climax. The actors depart and the cellos are left floating like bodies waiting for the next thing to come along, peaceful, at rest.