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November 23, 2004

Avant-Garde US Director Tackles French Fables

From: Reuters - NY,USA - Nov 23, 2004

By Joelle Diderich

PARIS (Reuters) - Avant-garde U.S. theater director Robert Wilson said on Tuesday he owed his career to France, where audiences lapped up his first production -- a seven-hour silent play featuring a 13-year-old deaf-mute.

Wilson said he admired France for nurturing foreign artists like him and complained that the United States was too narrow-minded in its public arts funding.

"We lack a sound cultural policy," the director, famed for his minimalist staging of operas ranging from "Aida" to "Madame Butterfly," told a news conference.

"Believe it or not, as a taxpayer in the state of New York, my tax dollar for the most part cannot go to support anyone outside the state of New York. How provincial can we be?"

French theater-goers have embraced the Texan director and continue to flock to his plays, shrugging off diplomatic tensions with Washington over the U.S.-led war in Iraq that have led some Americans to publicly ridicule all things French.

"The French discovered my work," said Wilson. "I had no idea that I would ever work in the theater or have a career in the theater."

Although he has headed productions from Sydney to San Francisco, Wilson is more famous here than in the United States. His breakthrough came in 1971 with "Deafman Glance," the first of a string controversial and ground-breaking works.

"I had made a very strange play that was seven hours long and silent, with a 13-year-old deaf-mute boy who had never been to school and who knew no words," Wilson recalled.

"And it was shown for the first time in its entirety here in France. Much to my surprise it was a big success."

Now he wants to give something back to the nation that commissioned his best-known work, "Einstein on the Beach," the opera he wrote with composer Philip Glass.

Wilson on Tuesday unveiled an exhibition of drawings and installations based on the fables of 17th century French writer Jean de la Fontaine, allegorical poems which generations of French children have learned to reel off by heart.

"I wanted to do them as a gift for France," Wilson said of the exhibition at the foundation set up by retired French designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

The director drew rave reviews earlier this year with his adaptation of the fables for the Comedie Francaise, the home of classical French theater. Tickets for upcoming repeat performances have been sold out for weeks.

"I thought to do something that was a part of your heritage, a national treasure, and to do something for children. I think what's very nice about getting old is to begin to think about passing on what one has been doing to a younger generation."

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.