Laurie Anderson – Delusion | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 2 December, 2010

When Laurie Anderson last performed in Rome three years ago, she brought with her what was then a work in progress – Homeland – a sometimes cynical, often darkly humorous portrait of America in the 21st century. Much of the material performed in that show finally appeared in one form or another on her latest (and stunning) CD of the same name, which was released earlier this year. The opening strains of Transitory Life from Homeland, followed by Another Day in America, narrated by Anderson's male-voiced alter ego Fenway Bergamot, are used to bridge the gap between that earlier work, with its undeniable political overtones and comments on broad social issues, and her newest work, Delusion, a far more intimate journey into the world of dreams, family and personal loss.

Whilst Homeland was a somewhat sparse affair on stage, Delusion is a fully interdisciplinary work – additional audio effects such as pouring rain and video projections onto a large screen and two smaller ones showing falling leaves, the surface of the moon, animated chalkboard drawings, dandelions, as well as occasional close ups of Laurie Anderson herself – are perfectly integrated with the music, whilst the artist herself stands mostly at the control keyboards, but sometimes, fostering greater complicity and intimacy, she moves centre stage to sit on sofa before delivering one of her monologues.

In recent interviews Anderson has talked about the fact that she has been asleep, quite literally, for twenty years of her life, and Delusion takes a closer look at that other state of being, recounting dreams and the uncontrollable craziness of the subconscious – when we are delusional, as it were. In one story, for example - recounted in Italian for the Rome show - she recalls a dream in which she gives birth to her pet rat terrier! Many more of the delusions in this performance are the stories we tell ourselves in our waking state – family histories and distortions of the truth. I adored one story in particular, in which she tells of meeting a farmer in Iceland, who lives in the midst of an utterly flat and desolate landscape, yet who wants to convert his barn into a dance hall, convinced that people, and even elves, will come from all around to dance there! This wryly humorous piece then meanders down a more personal root to musings about her father and his own similar delusions, and reflections on her probable Swedish and Irish ancestry. The devastating heart of the show, however, is the story of the death of Laurie Anderson's mother. Whilst her dying mother's words are jumbled and delusional, the artist's inability to fully mourn the mother she couldn't love rings painfully true.

As the final notes faded and the words “Thank you” indicated that the performance had ended, there was a moment's pause before the applause began – people were still absorbing this absolute masterpiece! And then the applause began and got steadily louder and the audience got to its feet bringing her back out for an encore, for which she chose Flow, the exquisite violin solo which also closes Homeland. We had come full circle.

Delusion by Laurie Anderson was performed in Rome as part of the 25th edition of the Romaeuropa Festival and It's Wonderful 2010. It was first commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the Barbican Centre, London.