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MITEM 2021 - Roger Salas

Robert Wilson Gives a New Light to the Oedipus of Sophocles

Few places, still silent or empty, are the theater itself, with capital letters and without any other need of the visitor than to be there, immerse themselves in a sacred and perfect space, the true peak of human creation and reverence for the millenary art of Melpomene and Thalia Andrea Palladio imagined it so at the end of the sixteenth century in the conception of the Olympic of Vicenza masterfully drawing space between the ancient walls of an old prison, and thus receives us today, with a greatness that does not overwhelm, but envelops, with a display harmonious classical forms that become the ideal cornice, the perfect framework for the theater and dance, in all its forms and styles, demonstrate their will to survive, to teach us the mirror path of the arts and its enduring value, its spokesman of the news and the farce, the tragic and the comedian. It is thrilling to think that some of the lamps of the ghostly illumination that Scamozzi designed for the Oedipus premiere in the sixteenth century have survived in part.[*]

The cycle 71 of Classical Shows of the Olympic Theater of Vicenza in 2018 (they began to take place in the distant 1934) has had its climax in the world premiere of Oedipus, by Robert Wilson (Waco, Texas, 1941) based loosely on the Oedipus Tyrant, or Oedipus Rex, of Sophocles; since the sixteenth century, it had only been performed once in 1997 under the direction of Gianfranco del Bosio in the reopening of the stage after the restoration. Last Sunday 7 was the last representation in Vicenza of this work that Aristotle placed in his Poetics with the exemplary summit of the tragic theater. The premiere on Thursday the 4th was a seamless triumph of what is probably the most influential live and active stage director on the planet. An artist who has contributed to the contemporary scene a decalogue own and brilliant plastic, sensitive and distinctive that, starting from a militant minimalism, has opened to a kind of encyclopaedism of a new era, globalizing the whole, increasingly internationalizing the template, looking in the most remote corners for the vertical connection to their aesthetic purposes.

Oedipus on October 4, 2018 at the Teatro Olimpico, d: Robert Wilson (photo/detail: Carlos J. Soto, source:

The peculiar Olympic space adapts without difficulty to what Wilson draws, which is nothing more than a choreography choral and ritual only interrupted in the hour and 15 minutes that lasts for a few dark shocks that serve as a quick pause between the scenes. The dance, pantomimic or pure, takes up a large part of the evening. Sometimes in solos, sometimes in groups. The choreography of the bridal dance has been expressly devised by the Australian Wesley Enoch in one of those extemporaneous first-time combinations that Wilson likes so much and then marry liquidly and naturally in the plot. Casilda Madrazo and Alexios Fousekis add a special nerve to the dances.

Much more than an aesthetic and a style, Wilson is already a system. Oedipus, which is already marked in the repertoires of the twentieth century with, among others, Stravinsky’s opera (1927) and Martha Graham’s ballet (Night Journey, 1947), finds in Robert Wilson a new and current perspective. The dancers as mobile sculptures, the concept of the choir but established within the plastic of the cast, the millimeter control of the stage, a kind of tyranny of the ruler. And there is an indirect reference and homage to Pina Bausch when the stage is flooded with chairs in the final scene, chairs that are knocked down and struck by the inconsequential anger of an already blind Oedipus.


’Oedipus’, by Robert Wilson, at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

It is true that this Oedipus had this summer a pre-release at the Teatro Grande Pompeya (Naples was involved as a co-producer), a kind of set-up in a memorial site that needs no introduction, the imposing partenopean ruins, but the work It has been commissioned, rehearsed and thought for the Olympic Theater of Vicenza, which was already inaugurated with this same work. On March 3, 1585, last Sunday of Carnival, the Olympic was opened for the first time with the representation of this Oedipus in which is the first stable covered theater that is preserved; the chronicles relate that the election of the title was then preceded by long debates of the Olympic Academy (which still today meets in the room adjoining the theater itself) and part of the miracle is that the scenery of that time, with the evocation of the seven streets of Thebes recreated by Scamozzi in those forced perspectives of wood, and still stands in the same place, can be seen and almost touched, and it is there where the actors and dancers of Wilson have deconstructed in a deconstructed way the sofoclianos texts in Greek, Latin, Italian, German and English, and where the classicist ritual has taken on a contemporary body in a magnetic staging, shining from beginning to end, intense and providing a tragic vibration of great depth.

It is true that every time we find a Wilson more “danced” and choreographic, as if the movement regulated and coach offer a window of language and structure that seems inexhaustible. This mark has already been seen since the time of The Knee Plays [visto en Madrid en el Festival de Otoño de 1985 en el Palacio de Congresos de La Castellana] with the help of the choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi, a personality that since then marked Wilson and entered into the genesis, the stylistic formula of the American, then taken up by Lucinda Childs.

The template chosen for this Oedipus is a declaration of principles and it is worthwhile to write it down. Almost all the actors go over 70 years, the dancers bring the contrast with their sculptural energy and youth. There is nothing casual about it. Mariano Rigillo (Naples, 1939) as relentless narrator, memory and thread of the work; Angela Winkler (Templin, Germany, 1944) in her figuration as an observer and questioner; Meg Harper (Evanston, Illinois, 1944) as Tiresias, a mythical dancer by Merce Cunningham, giving density to a pantomime full of orientalist severity; the saxophonist and plastic artist Dickie Landry (Louisiana, 1938), true catalyst spectrum (who does not remember his photos of William Burroughs?) with his music full of melancholy; Casilda Madrazo (Mexico, 1980) an experimental flamenco dancer embodying a hieratic Jocasta and finally Michalis Theophanous (Greece, 1982), an artist who unites dance and Apollonian presence in his Oedipus, introspective and powerful, and before he demonstrated his arts in the Adam’s Passion (2015) by Wilson himself with dance and choreography by Lucinda Childs and music by Arvo Pärt and here at the Olympic along with Dimitris Papaioanou in the evocative Primal Matter.

Matter the Rwandan Kayije Kagame, deified totem, beautiful and seductive, recites in several languages and walks among the public, balances its steps in the stands and brushes with their clothes to the public. It is not to ignore the plastic influence of Isamo Noguchi, present in costumes and objects. The 4th was Wilson’s birthday and Landry came out at the end with his glossy saxophone and the notes of Happy Birthday, which all the artists chanted, a moment that could even thrill the director himself, always had an imperturbable ice man in a black convent costume.


[*]     First publication: Robert Salas: Robert Wilson da una nueva luz al Edipo de Sófocles. El Teatro Olímpico de Vicenza estrena un grandioso proyecto de carácter global bajo una perspectiva netamente coreográfica, El Pais, 6. Oct, 2018.

(14 September 2021)

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