September 23, 2008
State-of-the-art director Robert Wilson to speak at Stanford
Avant-garde theater director, stage designer, playwright and visual artist Robert Wilson will present a multimedia self-portrait that combines talk, demonstration and performance at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, in Kresge Auditorium.
The lecture title, including the capital letters, are typical of his style: "1. HAVE YOU BEEN HERE BEFORE" "2. NO THIS IS THE FIRST TIME." The event is free and open to the public.
Wilson also will give a master class at 3:30 p.m. that day in Piggott Theater. The class will include a piece developed by dancer, choreographer and performer Aleta Hayes of Stanford's Drama Department. Based on T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, the piece will be performed by Hayes and Stanford graduate students Virginia Preston and Donnie Hill. Wilson, whose signature element is light, will critique the lighting for the scene, which was designed by drama Professor Michael Ramsaur.
One of the most influential theater artists today, Wilson has a reputation for innovation with long performances (one, staged on a mountaintop in Iran, lasted seven days) that are characterized by very slow and painstakingly precise movement and "performed images." His lengthy multimedia productions, heirs to surrealism, often juxtapose the unexpected and play with the boundaries of time and space. Said the late Susan Sontag of his work: "I can't think of any body of work as large or as influential."
His ambitious performances often carry a high price tag; hence, they are frequently staged in Europe, where state-subsidized arts allow more relaxed budgets and flamboyant experimentation.
Wilson is perhaps best known for his collaboration with composer Philip Glass on the opera Einstein on the Beach, which he launched in Europe in the early 1970s.
In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize jury unanimously selected the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down for the drama prize (it was the only nominated work), but the Pulitzer Board vetoed the decision because there was no conventional script to review, and the production under consideration was only part of a larger whole; the Pulitzer gave no drama award that year. Other acclaimed works include Deafman Glance (1970), A Letter for Queen Victoria (1974), The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud (1969) and the weeklong KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenioa TERRACE (1972).
Wilson, a native of Waco, Texas, had no formal training in theater. He studied business administration at the University of Texas and earned a degree in architecture from the Pratt Institute. He also attended lectures by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (widow of the Hungarian painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy), studied painting with American abstract expressionist painter George McNeil in Paris and studied architecture with visionary Paolo Soleri in Arizona. A critical early influence was his dance instructor, Byrd Hoffman.
His foray into theater was somewhat serendipitous: "My first work was seven hours long and silentand, much to my surprise, it was a huge success in France. Based on that, people asked me to work in the theater," he recalled to Theatermania in 2006. "I always followed my instincts. I'm best known for working in the theater, but I guess if I had gone to Yale, Northwestern or Harvard and studied drama, I would not be making the kind of theater that I'm making. It came from personal experience. I came to New York from Texas and looked at Broadway plays and didn't like them. And I still don't."
In addition to his work for the stage, Wilson creates sculpture, drawings and furniture designs. He won the Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Biennale for a sculptural installation. Wilson has received two Rockefeller and two Guggenheim fellowships.