Curating Currents: Robert Wilson at The Guggenheim

By Rachel Straus

The mot du moment in the New York dance scene is “curate.” Dances are usually presented, but museums—From the Whitney to the Museum of Arts & Design—are getting in on the fun. Museums, however, don’t present. And so the fifth “Works & Process” program at the Guggenheim Museum was called “Watermill Quintet—Robert Wilson Curates New Performances” (March 13-14)

With a sold-out audience on March 14, the Peter B. Lewis Theater hummed with excitement. Then began Andrew Ondrejcak’s Veneration #1: The Young Heir Takes Possession of the Master’s Effects. What a title! But the headline bore little relationship to the stage action. Ondrejcak ran in his underwear on a treadmill for about 15 minutes. An excerpt of composer-violinist Michael Galasso’s Les Fables de la Fontaine (a 2004 co-commission with Wilson from the Comédie-Française) created a suitably intense, modernist musical landscape.

Like Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach (1976), the work that put the Texas-born director on the international avant-garde theater map, Veneration included repetition (running), dramatic lighting (by Wilson and John Torres), and a recognizable tone (deadly seriousness). When Ondrejcak fell off the treadmill, I looked at my program notes to find:

“Leading up to the death of his father in 2010, Ondrejcak devised Veneration #1: The Young Heir Takes Possession of the Master’s Effects, in which he isolates and observes the body’s process of physical weakening (and eventual failure)…”

This reviewer did a double take, unsure of whether the program notes corresponded to the stage proceedings. But they did. And so the serious study of the program notes (throughout the show) became part of the performance. Connecting the moving images on stage with the long descriptions of four 15-minute works and six video interludes—created by five artists who had been mentored by Wilson in 2010 at his Watermill Center—became the elusive goal.

Some works seemed to be about so much, as in the case of The Dorothy K.: Shorter Are the Prayers in Bed, but More Heartfelt, which included blood soaked costumes by Anna Telcs. Another seemed to be about so little, as with MOMENT-a duet for one, which involved the choreographer Marianna Kavallieratos and Thanassis Akokkalidis’ moving and sitting across from each other in chairs.

The works bore little relationship to each other. The press release stated that Wilson had made a “visual and performative framework.” In the end, the event felt like subterfuge for the obvious: The star of the show was Wilson. The curator is the new rock star. Performance theory jargon isn’t just for academics. Artists can spin profundities about their creations with mots mysteres. If this approach fostered intellectual stimulation or comedy, that would have been fabulous. But on March 14 at the Guggenheim it created consternation, and multiple departures by formerly excited audience members.



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