The New York Times described him as “a reference point in the world of experimental theatre and an explorer of time and space on stage”. He has worked with artists such as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Lou Reed, or Jessye Norman. In one of their articles, Forbes Magazine calls him Renaissance Man.
At the age of 75, Robert Wilson is one of the most acclaimed visual and performance artists in the world. Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson moved to New York in the 60s, where he discovered the work of choreographers George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham. Six years later, he founded his own experimental dance company, Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, and created his first performances, The King of Spain, and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud. In 1976, he joined minds with composer Philip Glass in creating the opera performance Einstein on the Beach, considered to be one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century, thus gaining international recognition.
Robert Wilson found simplicity in movement, in performing, in gestures and he linked visual and performance art in a tight bond in order to create avant-garde performances. Influenced over time by Bertolt Brecht’s formalism, in which the distance of epic theatre is supported by stage elements – lights, movements, text and stage – Robert Wilson believes that on-stage artificiality is more authentic than the lie of naturalism. This is how Robert Wilson has developed as an artist over time, although he is a graduate of business administration and architecture.
Presently, we can declare Robert Wilson an all-encompassing artist, creating theatre and opera performance from the concept down to the most subtle movement, designing the setting and light shows. In an interview for Dance Ink, he explained that “In my work, light functions as a part of an architectural whole. It is an element that helps us hear and see, which is the primary way we communicate. Without light, there is no space.” As a director, he never gives actors fixed meanings; instead, he creates very strict choreographic structures, thus giving directions for movement, but not thought. His stage directions are more formal and organizational, such as faster, quieter, stronger, as he rarely interferes or discusses what actors say or think on stage. “Sometimes I tell them: You believe too much in what you are saying, which makes you not believable”, the artist states in an interview for The Vima.
Wilson believes a director is someone who sees the performance from the outside and helps the actors reach their best performance level. He challenges outsiders to come to the rehearsals to make notes and share observations.
He is a playwright, painter, sculptor, he works with sound, and is defined in the field of performing arts by the visualisation of the stage ensemble, of actors in the context of an artificial environment, not only focusing on characters and finding the motivation behind each individual gesture. The creativity of an artist depends on “constant questioning, asking oneself what is it?, and not just stating what it is. That’s how I see artists’ creativity”, he says. You are probably wondering how a stable artistic movement can be created in such a dynamic world. Wilson believes that “the only thing that’s constant is change”.
He has worked all over the world and hopes that his art will remain accessible centuries from now. He believes that the difference between contemporary audiences and those in the 90s is the fact that “nowadays, the spectator is much more conscious visually, largely because of today’s media.”
In his universal journey, Robert Wilson arrives this year at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, where he will perform John Cage’s text, Lecture on Nothing. Staged so as to define reading and ascribing value to each word, the statement ’Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere and that is a pleasure‘ becomes the chorus of the performance, described as an “acoustic and visual approach, inspired by Cage’s philosophical and poetic text, based on his long and complex time scale, as well as his music”. Mark Swed wrote for Los Angeles Times that “His stage suggestions pertain to museums. Yet, his non-narrative theatre can only be understood if experienced, lived.”
This is not Wilson’s first time in Romania. “My works have been presented in Romania several times since creating Hamletmachine in the 80s. My only extended stay in Romania was three years ago in Craiova, where I staged Rhinoceros at the National Theatre. I’ve been there twice. The first time, for a workshop to develop the performance, and, the second time, for final rehearsals. I enjoyed very much being in Romania and I can’t wait to return. I’ve heard of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, but I know little about Sibiu and that’s very exciting”, he says about coming to Sibiu in June.
However, the novelty about Robert Wilson’s visit to Romania and his artistic career is the fact that he will receive a star on the Sibiu Walk of Fame – for his original and powerful artistic vision.