Robert Wilson

Ivor Abrahams, Paths I, 1975
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By WALNICE NOGUEIRA GALVÃO*

Considerations on the artistic trajectory of the North American theater director

An obvious candidate for the post of greatest theater director in the world, Robert Wilson is difficult to apprehend, due to the prolific nature of his work and the multiplicity of his talents: director, set designer, choreographer, sculptor, painter, writer, performer... Alaska and the other in Shanghai; now directs an opera with a thousand extras, now a monologue on an empty stage; or put on a show with Shakespeare's sonnets and one more with the great classical music of the oratorio Messiah, by Handel. In the latter, whose premiere took place at the Mozart Festival in Salzburg in 2020, in the midst of a montage so original that it almost became profane, a girl evolved with a blue macaw, a Brazilian bird condemned to extinction, in her arm.

In a quick review, we will deal with some of his exploits, a pale sample of a monumental work, unique for its creativity and richness of invention.

Asks to highlight the Orlandoinaugurated at the Odeon Theater in Paris. An unbeatable combination of three geniuses: Virginia Woolf, author of the homonymous novel, Robert Wilson, Isabelle Huppert – this one, the greatest actress of the French scene. Orlando is an aristocrat who lives through 400 years of English history, sometimes as a woman, sometimes as a man. The protagonist recited passages in different styles, alone on stage – or shouting, or laughing, or whispering, or with random pauses.

It is also worth noting the Fables by La Fontaine on French comedy in world premiere. The animals were so much fun, as well as beautiful. The cicada fluttered around rubbing its hands, as the insect actually does with its elytra to produce its typical buzz. The frogs stayed close to the ground, and from time to time they would jump and utter a “Croac!”, croaking as if mocking. A mute manifestation of anti-racism was the lion, portrayed by a handsome black man, very tall and broad-shouldered, extremely elegant in formal attire (tailcoat), with his head covered not by a mane but by a headdress with braids, a dreadlocks – mix of Black Power with Rastafarian.

Or an opera at the Municipal de São Paulo, the macbeth, by Verdi, with the Bologna Opera Company, in which what mattered was the work with light, in which Robert Wilson is an expert, dominating the staging. The characters were part of a tight group in their black robes, tending to Père Ubu, motionless on stage. There we received all the vertigo of the horror brought to light by the investigation of spilled blood, the work of the Macbeth couple.

And there was a Madame Butterfly at the Paris Opera – Bastille. The musical performance is minor and only average, but the staging is unforgettable. Robert Wilson confesses his inclination for the oriental theater, and here he gives vent to his preference. And he dresses everyone in samurai garb, properly stylized, of course, while commanding stiff, hieratic gestures in the style of Kabuki and Noh theater.

In Brazil, it is said that Robert Wilson's debut took place at the International Theater Festival organized by Ruth Escobar, in 1974, with The life and times of Joseph Stalin. Only in 2009 would we see an exhibition of his intriguing video installations at Sesc, entitled Voom Portraits. The partnership with Sesc would prove fruitful, covering the following years with several works.

To begin with, there was quartet, by Heine Müller, reinterpretation of the dangerous liaisons that went around the world. Then followed Krapp's Last Recording, by Beckett. A Threepenny Opera, by Brecht, in partnership with the Berliner Ensemble. Lulu, by Wedekind, with a soundtrack by Lou Reed. the lady of the sea, by Ibsen, adapted especially for Robert Wilson by Susan Sontag. The old, by the Russian author Daniil Kharms, which shows affinities with the theater of the absurd. In the latter, there are only two actors on stage, but what actors! – the Russian dancer Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, a customer of avant-garde theater and cinema. The list of pieces privileges the classics, until now.

and we got to Garrincha – An opera of the streets, a musical entirely Brazilian, with the silver of the house, a super production involving 56 professionals, with a relevant and popular theme. For those interested, Sesc has provided a TV version, which can be seen on YouTube.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

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