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Peter Gabriel Goes Zulu

Peter Gabriel and director Robert Lepage have created a new theater piece, Zulu Time, which will make its North American debut at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom on September 21st, as part of Quebec New York 2001, a month-long celebration of Quebecois art and culture.

Set in an airport, Zulu Time will feature a carnivalesque series of characters (including pilots, stewardesses, terrorists, drug traffickers, dancers, robots, acrobats and contortionists) washed in frenzied lights and a diverse cross-section of music that ranges from hip-hop to world music – for lack of a better term.

“A lot of things come out of it,” Lepage says of the airport setting. “Stories about loneliness and traveling or about misunderstanding different cultures or about men and women. It’s an interesting theme, and its related to this idea of world music and blending and merging and crossbreeding.”

“I think its surprising how little mythology there is about airports,” Gabriel says. “If you look at what there used to be about trains and stations. There’s so many road movies that it’s a genre in itself, which isn’t the case with air movies, aside from Airplane [laughs].”

Zulu Time isn’t Gabriel and Lapage’s first collaboration; the pair previously worked together on Gabriel’s Secret World Tour in 1993. “There seems to be a trend of the theater world and the music world to want to try and tell stories together and see how they can work together,” Lapage says.

Part of Lepage’s drive in creating Zulu derived from an emotional divide that has developed in a technological age. “Technology is supposed to bring us closer, but we are witnessing a world that is more and more isolated, where there is more loneliness,” he says, “where people have sex through the telephone or the Internet or whatever. I’m not trying to judge that – it’s just an observation, we’ve become a necrophiliac culture. We’ve become a society of wankers.”

“We actually don’t know a lot about the history of masturbation,” Gabriel interrupts with a laugh. “Maybe that’s the subtitle of the show.”

Although Zulu Time has already been performed in Zurich and Paris, both Gabriel and Lapage suggest that the production is constantly changing. “The difference between this and film,” Gabriel says, “is film is a fixed piece of work that’s unresponsive to any type of reaction that the audience might have. This is the opposite. And over time, it’s an extremely responsive animal that evolves. It’s an interesting sort of snowball.”

In addition to Zulu Time, Gabriel has been at work scoring an Australian film titled The Rabbit Proof Fence as well as logging some hours on his next studio album, his first since 1992’s Us. He hopes to release it next year. “I’ve made some headway,” Gabriel says. “There’s a few tracks actually mixed. But I’m a master of distraction.”

As for the sound of the album, Gabriel suggests it’s too early to tell. “I have several ideas for tracks,” he says, “but it just depends on which ones sound the best on the record.”

Also on Gabriel’s plate is the upcoming WOMAD Festival, which runs from July 27th through the 29th. In addition to performing with the Afro-Celt System, Gabriel will play an acoustic set on July 29th with bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes. Gabriel fans can log onto his Web site and submit potential set lists for the performance.

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