Perspectives

Bob Wilson’s theatre of light

A visual retrospective of his work at the Paris Opera — By Octave

Whilst some use music as a language and others the body, stage director and visual artist Robert Wilson expresses himself through light. The core material of his work, it is the element structuring the scenic space and the poetic and symbolic expression of the works he stages. Strongly influenced by Japanese Noh theatre, Bob Wilson has developed a highly codified body language in which each gesture is reduced to its simplest form. A pared-down movement extending into the schematisation of the sets, which also contribute to creating the unique aesthetic of this multi-faceted artist.

A regular collaborator at the Paris Opera, his first visit to our institution dates back to 1984, when he directed and created the sets for Medea, Gavin Bryars's opera based on the work by Euripides. Four years later, he created the scenography for the ballet Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien a work he co-choreographed with Suzushi Hanayagi and Pierre Darde. On the cusp of the 1990s, which would be marked by a series of new productions (The Magic Flute in 1991, Madame Butterfly in 1993, Pelléas et Mélisande in 1997 and a revised version of “The Flute” in 1999 with new costumes), he would be given the task of producing La Nuit d’avant le jour, the inaugural performance at the Opéra Bastille, on July 13, 1989, for which he created a dramaturgy based on excerpts from the great French opera repertoire. In addition to these emblematic productions we should also cite Die Frau Öhne Schatten (2002), Bernice Johnson Reagon’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony and more recently, in 2014, L’Incoronazione di Poppea.

This season, the Opera is reviving his legendary production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande with Étienne Dupuis and Elena Tsallagova in the title roles under the expert baton of Philippe Jordan.

“All the gestures of the characters are numbered, all the rhythms of the lights and the actions are calculated to the second, as in a score in which light, sound and action converge.” Robert Wilson

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