Tag Archive | "Robert Wilson"

Rufus Wainwright

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Rufus Wainwright, an internationally renown singer/ songwriter, will be performing with Norah Jones and his sister Martha Wainwright at the Watermill Center’s “Last Song of Summer” this Saturday at 5pm. The performance benefits the Watermill Center’s Artist in Residence Program. Tickets for the show are still available at lastsong.eventbrite.com

by Marianna Levine

How did you initially become involved with Robert Wilson and the Watermill Center? And who thought up “The Last Song of Summer?”

I’ve come out to Long Island for years in the summer. I started going to Shelter Island mostly with my dad as a teenager and we’d often come through the Hamptons to gawk at the fabulous people. Longingly. (Laughs). I, of course had heard of Robert Wilson. I’m a big opera fan and he’s pretty famous in the opera world, so after I made my first album, I went to his benefit out here and it was a fun party. And it started with that. I subsequently started coming back and now my boyfriend, Jorn Weisbrodt, is the Creative Director of the Watermill Center so I’ve sort of become married to the Center. I also worked with Bob on a project based on Shakespearean sonnets. For certain people there is a kind of magnetic effect that keeps pulling them back (to the Watermill Center). It is a very creative place.

“The Last Song” was Jorn’s idea. He wanted to have a little concert with a special guest each year. Last year it was Jessye Norman. This year it’s Norah Jones. And I love this great song called “The Last Rose of Summer” which we sang last year and which we’ll sing this year. There’s something sort of romantic and tragic about trying to suck the life out of the final moments of the summer.


Can you give us a hint of what you will be performing at the Watermill Center’s “Last Song of Summer” this year? For example will you perform the Shakespearean sonnets or pieces from your opera “Prima Donna”?

I’ll do a couple of the (Shakespearean) sonnets. I will also perform an aria from my opera. One thing that is amazing about Norah Jones, aside from her songs and her voice, is that she’s a really fantastic pianist. We’re going to do a couple of old standards together. I won’t say exactly what they are yet but we’re going to get a little jazzier. And then my sister, Martha Wainwright, will be opening and she’ll be singing a lot of Edith Piaf songs.

An important aspect of my career has been group numbers, especially with my family. My mother Kate McGarrigle will be there too, and she loves going from the guitar to the banjo and then to the piano and harmony.


You just premiered your first opera, “Prima Donna” at the Manchester International Festival in England. Working on the opera probably occupied most of your time and energy over the past year. Has it been hard to let go of thinking and working on it?

I’ve had a couple of weeks off in which to decompress, but the reality of the situation is that now’s the time to really fight for the work. It’s premiering in London and Toronto this spring, and then it’s going to Melbourne. But especially with an opera, if you don’t push for it, it’s possible you won’t hear it again for two hundred years.

The main thing is that I did survive the critics; I mean the European classical music ones which are traditionally the hardest and most ruthless. No other pop musician has survived when entering that realm. They tore apart Paul McCartney, but I made it through so I’ve got to keep going.


A lot of your audience is familiar with your “popular” music. Do you feel those fans came along with you to the opera?

Oh yeah. What was really exciting about the shows in Manchester was that half the audience if not more had never been to the opera before, and they were totally open to the experience and willing to go wherever I took them. I think it was great in that sense, and you know I think that is why the Opera world needs me! Don’t get me wrong I adore opera. I have the highest regard for it. I understand my first opera is nowhere near as good as the real classical operas but you hope you get there eventually.


How has writing an opera changed or influenced your song writing in general?

I don’t know. My next album will be solo piano and voice, and very intimate. I do like to challenge myself. This time I’ve really challenged my piano playing. A lot of he songs I’m writing for this next album are dreadfully complicated. Some of them are very simple. I make it easy on myself occasionally too, but these are the hardest piano parts I’ve ever written.


You perform internationally, and have quite a large and loyal fan base in Europe. How would you say the audiences in Europe and North America differ? Do you perform a different set list depending on the venue?

If I play a bar I’ll do a different show than if I’m playing Carnegie Hall.  But in terms of the people and the crowd, I look at them as the same in a way. I think in Europe and England I’m a kind of bigger star but in a weird way in America, I might be slightly hipper. What’s fascinating is that there is still such a gulf between England and America. You’d think in this day and age everything would relate to one another, but they’re still two different worlds.


You’re often considered a Canadian singer songwriter, but you were actually born in New York. Could you talk a little about your connections to New York and Eastern Long Island?

I was born in New York, but brought up in Canada. Actually my grandfather is buried in East Hampton. All of our family is from the East End, so I’m really a native Hamptonite returning home after two generations.



Robert Wilson’s Dance for a Friend

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By Mariana Levine

This Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. Guild Hall will be presenting “KOOL – Dancing in my Mind” a multimedia dance event honoring the work of Japanese dancer and choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi. The performance will include music composed by David Bryne, film footage by Richard Rutkowski and Robert Wilson, and new dances by Jonah Bokaer and Illenk Gentile.

 “KOOL”, an English translation of the name Suzushi, was created by avant-garde theater pioneer Robert Wilson in partnership with Carla Blank, both of whom were long-time friends and collaborators of Hanayagi. The project came about when Wilson, who had worked with Hanayagi on over 20 performances starting in the 1980s, realized somehow along the way that he had lost touch with her, and wanted to reconnect and work with her again. On a trip through Japan he tracked her down only to learn she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was living in a nursing home where she barely moved or spoke.

“I’m dancing in my mind”, the other half of the performance’s title, were the words whispered to Wilson by Hanayagi — her first words spoken in a long time — in response to Wilson’s request “remember, I want to work with you again.”

Jorn Weisbrodt, Creative Director of the Bryd Hoffman Watermill Foundation explains, “After this trip Mr. Wilson wanted to do something for her or with her but realized she probably couldn’t do it herself. So he went back a second time and filmed her. It is a really beautiful film.”

Thereby Wilson was able to include her visual presence in the presentation as well as having live dancers perform a collage of her choreography.

The filming, Weisbrodt relates, wasn’t easy as the family had to agree to it, something that was difficult to negotiate since Japanese tradition dictates suffering should remain private and within the immediate family. However, in the end the family agreed to allow it, and now it is part of the tribute to her life and work, Weisbrodt continued.

He also recalls when Wilson was filming Hanayagi in Japan, he would make simple gestures that she was able to repeat, and that she seemed to recall something of her life through the movements. A certain joy came back to her expression with the movements, Weisbrodt recounts.

Blank speaks with tears in her eyes when she says Hanayagi would want her whole life presented as such since, “she believed, as I do too, that life and dance are one. Some people are worried about showing her in her present state, but there is so much to celebrate, and Wilson and I want to celebrate this big energy she gave us to continue her work.” She mentions that she has known and worked with Hanayagi since the early 1960s, when both women lived and worked in New York City.

Blank had also wanted to create something that would call attention to her friend’s influence on dance and movement internationally. Blank notes that Hanayagi gave movement workshops through the world including the Paris Opera Ballet, and worked with Opera Star Jesse Norman on her gesture language.

 “For some reason Suzushi wasn’t as much of a presence, her name wasn’t as recognizable as perhaps Robert Wilson’s, and yet she was really the point of contact in terms of combining Japanese traditions with modern movement.” Therefore Blank was thrilled when Wilson contacted her to create “KOOL”. The two had only met once before, but were aware of each other’s collaborations with Hanayagi. The end result, a collaborative, multi-media project was not only a fitting tribute to their colleague’s work but also reflects Blank and Wilson’s preferred methods of working.

Blank recalls that Hanayagi was brave to break from the traditional roles imposed on Japanese women, even artists and dancers, back in the 1950s. Her break with tradition started when she begun combining the traditional Japanese dance she had painstakingly learned with the Modern Dance she was becoming familiar with at her college. “Starting around 1957-1958 she always performed using both classical and modern dance vocabularies.”

It was a program with New York’s Japan Society that finally brought her to the United States were she gave numerous dance workshops and created a lot of movement pieces alone or often in collaboration with others such as fellow immigrant Yoko Ono. She left New York City in 1969 in order to give birth to and raise her son in Japan, according to Blank. Thereafter she returned to the United States numerous times to work on several projects with Robert Wilson among others.

The “Performance Portrait” of Hanayagi was first presented at the Guggenheim this past April. Guild Hall, who co-produced the program with the Guggenheim and Wilson, will present a slightly evolved performance, as Weisbrodt notes, “Mr. Wilson will be rehearsing the dancers himself this week so he’ll probably be making some changes to the program.”

Blank, who is also rehearsing the group, agreed that the performance might change organically this week. The six member dance company for “KOOL” includes dancers Sally Gross and Meg Harper, both of whom have been coming out to the East End for many summers, as well as CC Chang, Yuki Kawashisa, Jonah Bokaer, and Illenk Gentile. Several of the dancers had worked with the late Merce Cunningham as well.