The world in the blink of an eye

What do you see when you blink? A piece of reality? A fragment of a dream? Avant-garde director and playwright Robert Wilson has come up with a few answers and is about to unveil them to the world next week. The world premiere of «Rumi: In the Blink of the Eye» is scheduled to take place in Athens as the final part of the Attiki Cultural Society’s spring theater festival at the Pallas theater on May 28, 29, 30 and 31. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273) the poet considered the greatest of Sufi mystics, became the founding father of the Mevlevi Order, otherwise known as the Whirling Dervishes. Discovered by Western travelers in the 19th century, the Whirling Dervishes have long fascinated international audiences. In this new work featuring Turkish and Farsi texts, Eastern traditions are combined with contemporary Western creation. With UNESCO billing 2007 as International Rumi Year, the production is the first installment of a three-year «Rumi Project,» celebrating 800 years since the poet’s birth. Featuring vocalists, musicians and dancers, «Rumi: In the Blink of the Eye,» is part of Wilson’s universe of images, movement and sound – or no sound at all. «Stillness and what we hear in silence,» said Wilson as he described parts of the production, at a recent meeting with the press in Athens. «Being silent we become aware of sound.» On stage, Wilson shows a penchant for slow movement and austerity. What the French define as «silent operas,» he calls working on «structured silences.» The new show focuses on «interior visual screens» versus «exterior visual screens.» According to the director, we often forget about how we perceive things and focus on the information we receive from the outside world. This is one of the reasons why Wilson takes a twofold approach to his work. First he directs the work silently, without text and music. Then he goes through it adding the audio score. In the end, the two versions come together, not necessarily reflecting each other. «It’s similar to listening to drama on radio, you’re free to imagine the visual side,» said Wilson in explaining the process. «Or when watching a silent movie, you can hear the sound.» Time also remains a fundamental aspect of Wilson’s explorations on stage. For one, he has used time as a defining and often defying element: He has gone from plays lasting seven days to creating works of 30 seconds. In between, there have been works presented during 24 hours or even 12 – next week’s premiere lies in the 70-minute range. Directed and designed by Wilson, «Rumi: In the Blink of the Eye» is based on an original score by Turkish composer Kudsi Erguner. For Wilson, it is also a journey back in time, to when he was preparing «Ka Mountain and Guardenia Terrace» in 1972. The play, which was staged for seven consecutive days on seven different hills in Iran, was followed by six-hour daily stagings in New York. Rumi’s poetry re-entered the director’s life in 1998, for his work in «Monsters of Grace,» in tandem with Philip Glass. This time round, Wilson stayed with Erguner in Istanbul, attending Sufi ceremonies and talking to local teachers and artists. Brushing aside the intellectual aspect of his work, Wilson aims to keep his productions accessible to all: children, educated or uneducated audiences. The mystery, he says, is in the surface. «The most important thing is to experience,» he said. «If you know what it is that you’re doing, don’t do it.» Pallas Theater, 3 Voukourestiou, tel 210.321.3100 (credit card reserva-tions 211.1086050). Also visit and Fnac at The Mall. Shows: May 28, 29, 30, 31. Robert Wilson: Life and works Born in Waco, Texas, in 1941, Robert Wilson went to New York in 1963 to attend Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. He established the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds company in 1968 and soon created his early works including «King of Spain» (1969), «Deafman Glance» (1970), «The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin» (1973) and «A Letter for Queen Victoria» (1974). In 1976, he turned to opera, creating «Einstein on the Beach» with Philip Glass. Since then he has worked with major theaters and companies in original works and opera classics. Over the years, he has collaborated with artists such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Waits and David Byrne. A multifaceted artist – choreographer, performer, painter, sculptor, furniture designer, video artist, sound and lighting designer – one of his latest projects was a series of high-definition videos known as Voom Portraits. In the summer, Wilson retreats to the Watermill Center he founded in 1992. Located in Southampton, Long Island, it is a multi-disciplinary center for studies in arts and humanities.