Tag Archives: robert wilson

Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Somehow I feel like I spent the past three years waiting for the opportunity to see Einstein on the Beach by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass with choreography by Lucinda Childs. That opportunity came the other night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

I say that I have been waiting that long because I was first introduced to Robert Wilson when I started my career working at the Watermill Center, “Bob’s” experimental theater residency program in the Hamptons.

Einstein on the Beach was a huge cultural success when it premiered in 1976 but a commercial disaster, sinking Wilson into debt and essentially running him out of New York. Since then, he has hailed critical success for his avant-garde theater and made his gradual return to New York.

Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 1

Knee Play 1.

Einstein on the Beach is an enormous undertaking with a large cast, live, layered music, intricate dance numbers, massive mechanical sets, and a 4 hour, 15 minute running time with no intermission. Utilizing repetition, the opera is at once incredibly complex and incredibly simple.

I found myself actively – and exhaustively – looking for changes throughout the four plus hours. What I found was that at a certain moment, one must surrender to the fact that there will be no conflict, climax or resolution. The opera will merely continue at the same tempo, with the same lighting, with the same dialogue, with the same lyrics, with the same movement with only subtle changes.

Einstein on the Beach Act I, Scene 2A Trial (Bed)

Act I, Scene 2A Trial (Bed).

The lack of change, that persistence of sameness, was absolutely amazing. The talent of the performers had me in awe. They must possess such discipline and hone incredible skills of voice, acting, and movement.

My favorite example of this was in Act II, Scene 1B, “Train” when two performers sang a song of love in the form of counting the beats, “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,” which changed rapidly to “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4” to 5’s to 6’s and then back down without every catching a breath. Incredible.

Einstein on the Beach, Act III, Scene 3B, Field (Space Machine)

Act III, Scene 3B, Field (Space Machine).

And the Lucinda Childs choreography where the dancers chassé and leap and chaînés in spirals around each other was dizzying in a good way. How these dancers could keep track of where they were, was one thing. The other thing, was their precision and enduring rhythm even after 20 minutes of nonstop motion. Again, incredible.

Einstein on the Beach, Act IV, Scene C, Building.

Act IV, Scene C, Building.

Then of course, there were the marvelous tableaus that Wilson created with the outlandish sets, simple costumes, lots of smoke, and focused lighting plus the standard Wilsonian gestures with the hands.

The music by Philip Glass was a classical circular melody that pulsated. Driving the sameness with subtle changes throughout.

Einstein the Beach 2012. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Lucinda Childs. Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Philip Glass, Lucinda Childs, and Robert Wilson on stage for the curtain call.

All in all, the whole opera was totally bizarre but somehow I found myself relating to it. I was so happy to see such a seminal work, and to see it in New York.


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The Watermill Quintet at Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Watermill Quintet

Charles Fabius, Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell, Robert Wilson, and Carlos Soto

Last night I went to the Guggenheim to see Works & Process at the Guggenheim present The Watermill Quintet: Robert Wilson Curates New Performances from the Watermill Center.

I had the pleasure of meeting Watermill Director, Jorn Weisbrodt and Rufus Wainwright outside before I joined the long line of people waiting to enter the Peter B. Lewis Theater. As the audience entered the theater, the piece, Veneration #1: The Young Heir Takes Posession of the Master’s Effects by Andrew Ondrejcak with music by Michael Galasso was already underway. On stage, Andrew was running on a treadmill in front of a two-way mirror – we could see him but he could only see himself – inspired by the runner’s father’s death and how the body weakens and eventually fails.

Next up was a video interlude followed by The Dorothy K.: Shorter Are The Prayers in Bed, but More Heartfelt an excerpt of the larger work Dorothy K written and directed by Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell. This piece had the dirt and discomfort generally associated with the group Implied Violence and included the use of text, repetition, and exposed theatrical cues.

As I sat through (the “I am misunderstood, please love me”) MY HEART’S IN MY HAND, AND MY HAND IS PIERCED, AND MY HAND’S IN THE BAG, AND THE BAG IS SHUT, AND MY HEART IS CAUGHT directed by Carlos Soto and (the extremely long and ironically titled) MOMENT – a duet for one choreographed and performed by Marianna Kavallieratos and Thanassis Akokkalidis, I tried to figure out what Robert Wilson’s curatorial take on work created at Watermill was and how New York audiences would perceive the work.

The program states, “Watermill Quintet is an expression of the belief of The Watermill Center to support a next generation of artists. Watermill Quintet is not a homogenous evening or an evening of Wilson Disciples, but shows the differences of artistic performative approaches of young artists.”

Following the performance, Robert Wilson (aka Bob) answered questions moderated by Charles Fabius, producer of Works & Process at the Guggenheim (and former Executive Director of the Watermill Center). Bob said he first approached the Watermill Quintet (which was actually 6 directors and 4 pieces – not 5 directors and 5 pieces as the title “quintet” would suggest) by asking how much time the performance would run. From there he chose his directors and gave them the freedom to make works with the suggestion that they use music by Bob’s late friend, Michael Galasso. He then worked with the artists the week prior to the performance to do lighting design and general direction. With regards to the pieces as a whole, Bob discussed how the Watermill Center is not a school for the Wilson technique but a space for young artists to create freely.

All in all, I love seeing work presented by Works & Process at the Guggenheim and it was great to see Watermill in New York.

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