| testo italiano |
[ conversations ]
Robert Wilson, Glimpsing Beyond The Impossible
by Alfonso Amendola
Robert Wilson is the leading figure of several cultural events. In December, at the Teatro Arcimboldi in Milan, he presented his theatrical work inspired by Flaubert, seen in the past seasons in Bari and Siracusa. This has been our opportunity for the following interview. He’s the vigorous, innovative, inventive author of shows in which theater, cinema, music and multimedia merge into a powerful expressive surge. Born in Texas in 1941, Wilson is an artist who pays particular attention to the realization of “cultural goods”: the distribution on DVD of works that obtained a significant commercial success ( Alcesti, Orfeo and Euridice), a very interesting and regularly updated website (www.robertwilson.com), the remarkable audiovisual production of Voom Portraits, the innovative learning method offered at his Watermill Center. In brief, a total artist intensely committed to contemporary innovations. From the very beginning of his “filmlike theater” and “multi-technological theater”, this commitment has been his hallmark. In 1963, he created his first short-film Slant, then he attended George Mc Neil’s lessons, a follower of abstract expressionism. The following year, Wilson’s work branched out with a series of performances, ideas for other films, performances of new-dance, architectural designs (Paolo Soleri, the utopistic architect, was one his mentors). After the darkening experience of a nervous breakdown, Wilson moved into the Open Theatre’s former New York venue, a loft that soon turns into a factory-workshop populated by artists, businessmen, intellectuals, troubled youngsters. The visionary director was back with new performances and in 1969 The King of Spain (his very first theater production) was presented in the by now crumbling Anderson Theater. With this show, Wilson began to explore his idea of using the scenic two-dimensional space and the fragmentation of stage temporality. His theater is not only gesture, but also natural scenery, such as beaches, Victorian lounges, caves, neo-dada objects and light. When the Brooklyn Academy of Music called him to stage a new work, The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud, Wilson’s amplified use of scenic techniques had become a reality and a choice of style. If this show was a perfect reflection on the “glance”, the next one (Deafman Glance, 1970) was about “silence”, where the visual score slowly flows in front of the eyes of a deaf-mute person. The scene’s rhythm is extremely slow, stressing a wish to recapture a “natural time”, which, in the theatrical action, becomes the “other dimension” into which the viewers must plunge, lose and find themselves again. After this show’s European tour (in Nancy), Bob Wilson’s “unsolved case” bursts. The letter written by Louis Aragon (and by a dead Breton) christens the splendor of this show (and the visionary determination of its creator): in Wilson’s work he finds “the masterpiece of surprise”, so seeked by surrealists. The rest is history. He continues experimenting, contaminating, attracting different models in an explosion of full-scale creativity, always glimpsing beyond the impossible.

Your most recent work comes from a classic text (The temptations of Saint Anthony by Flaubert) and, in accordance with your intention of contaminating forms and reinventing styles, it seems to follow the rhythm of a musical. Could you explain why you chose Temptation? (Philosophical poem in prose which had many editions since 1846 and adverse criticism: Barbey d’Aurévilly writes, “It could be Flaubert’s definitive suicide. This work is so incomprehensible that one can find neither the original meaning nor the intention ”)?   
I had been fascinated about the figure of St.Anthony for many years but it is always complex to stage religious themes. Then I thought that, in order to contrast the seriousness of the issues, the play should take the form of a theatrical musical. I had been wanting to do Temptation for over 20 years and finally, when I met the “voice” of Bernice Johnson Reagon, I knew how I could do the piece. I saw a concert of Bernice Johnson Reagon in New York - whose work I have known for years - and I asked her if she wanted
Wilson foto 01.jpg
photo by Tilde De Tullio
to join me in this adventure. I was drawn by her sound and her voice. Saint Anthony inspired many artists in the past to contemplate universal questions such as: the dichotomy of good and evil, the meaning of life and the place of god, nature, history and morality.
In creating the piece Bernice drew from the lexicon of black music, responding as well to the story struggle between the worldly and the sacred and the fight of various religious groups,which seems a very contemporary subject matter, as well as the figure of Anthony. The score that Bernice has composed covers a number of music genres : spirituals, protestant hymns/with African American tunes, worksongs, blues, jazz, doo-wop, gospel-traditional and contemporary, hip hop... and the cast that performs this was chosen to sing all of this and, at the same, performers that would understand my way of working in space and with the body. We found an excellent company.

What did you keep of the original book and what did you intentionally delete in your dramaturgical vision?
Temptation of Saint Anthony shows that I care for American tradition. I realized I wanted a musical because it is universal and speaks an emotional, universal truth. When I asked Bernice to work on this I thought if she would compose the music for the work in the Negro spiritual tradition then I could see the possibility of staging the work. While this work is based on Flaubert’s text, my production is based deeply on the history of African-American music and culture. For both of us, Anthony’s journey is very contemporary.
I felt that through the prism of African-American culture, she could interpret the complexity and duality of Anthony’s journey. Politics divide man. Religion also divides man. It always has. Art should abridge these differences. If there is a truth, I think that every culture can understand it. The most important truth we can understand from any culture is the art of the culture. And art can be understood from every culture.
(1) [2] [3]