Events 2022 September 23 d.

Interview with Ann-Christin Rommen, director working with Robert Wilson

On the 1st of October the National Kaunas Drama Theatre will host the long-awaited premiere of the world-famous director Robert Wilson’s “Dorian”. Rehearsals in Kaunas were opened by Wilson’s long-time colleague and co-director Ann-Christin Rommen. The artist, who has worked together on more than 50 productions, talks about her experience and the upcoming premiere.

About the artist 

Ann-Christin Rommen studied theatre, film and television at the University of Cologne in Germany and worked as an assistant director at the Schauspielhaus in Cologne. Since 1983 she has worked closely with Robert Wilson, with whom she has directed more than fifty productions worldwide. Ann-Christin Rommen’s directorial work has been shown in Europe, Asia and Australia. She has also taught at the Norwegian Theatre Academy.

This is your second visit to Kaunas and the National Kaunas Drama Theatre. You are very busy with rehearsals, but maybe you had the opportunity to explore the city. What are your impressions of it?

I had some time and I really enjoyed walking around and seeing so much life in the streets. So many cafes and restaurants. It’s really special, I hardly know any other city that has so much life on the streets. I also really enjoyed walking around Kaunas Old Town and seeing the old buildings. I think that this city has a very special and authentic architecture. It’s also nice that the „Kaunas 2022 European Capital of Culture“ project really helps to highlight the modernist buildings to draw attention to them, some of which have been renovated or are more encouraged to be appreciated for their beauty. I have very warm feelings for Lithuania and Kaunas city. I love it here.

Let’s move on to your collaboration with Robert Wilson, can you recall the first meeting? How did you start working together?

It was a very long time ago. I was still studying in Cologne, I had a few internships in the theatre and some small assistant jobs. One day a dramaturg called me and said: “There’s an American coming here, he’s very demanding, we need two assistants, so if you have time, come”. And I already knew a little bit about Wilson‘s work. I was very happy and decided to accept the offer. At that time he was working on „the CIVIL warS“ which was an attempt to create a 12 hour-long multinational opera for the 1984 Olympics – parts were rehearsed and created in Japan, France, Holland, Germany and America. It was about many kinds of wars,- imaginary and historic ones as well as personal as they happen in families. It reflected the experiences of Frederick the Great, Abraham Lincoln and many other historical figures. It was very abstract, but it is also very beautiful. Something like that had never been seen on a german theatre stage. At that time, Robert Wilson had already mastered the lighting technique, which seemed very magical and unprecedented for the audience. Later, Wilson asked me to come to New York to work with him. As a result, I dropped out of my studies, but I have never regretted that decision.

The list of venues and theatres where you have worked is impressive, and you have been to many different venues around the world: the Berliner Ensemble, the Barbican Centre in London, Spoleto in Italy, Teatro Grande in Pompeii, etc… From your own experience, what are the main factors of a fabulous theatre production?

Actually, many of our productions have been invited to festivals, for example, „The Threepenny Opera“, which was produced in Berlin, has been invited to Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Paris, New York, Spoleto Istanbul and many more. So, it was those productions that were very successful that travelled a lot around the world.

Many factors are necessary to make a fabulous theatre production. Good working conditions, talented actors, musicians, designers, – a lot of trust and patience, inspiration and the help of the „theatre gods“

Ann-Christin Rommen, photo by Justina Lasauskaitė

There are many myths about Robert Wilson’s precision and strictness on the theatre stage. Could you describe the director’s working method?

He just has a vision, he knows what he wants to achieve, and he tries to make it happen. He doesn’t compromise easily. Usually, first we sit together around the table and read the play or go through the scenes together. Robert creates the spaces by drawing them, where each particular scene is located, and we collect visual information – it’s the stage of  preparation. Then in the next step we work in a rehearsal space by sketching scenes with the actors and mock up scenery ,- here is already light an important element for every piece. Sometimes we don’t start working with the text straight away because you want to feel the situations of the play and try to understand how the actors behave with each other, how they react to each other. Once the costumes and set decorations are made, you finally add the text. It’s like peeling an onion, as more and more layers are revealed until the centre is finally reached. Robert Wilson often works with a high level of concentration, which means that it is also important for everyone around him to remain quiet and focused. Perhaps that is why people think he is so strict. He can be very funny and full of laughter, he creates a warm atmosphere and shows respect for everyone, but he is particularly disturbed when people do not feel concentrated.

Robert Wilson says that there is no such thing as complete silence, and no such thing as no movement. Even if the space is very quiet, there is always sound, something’s going on backstage, the rustling of the audience and so on. Movement is in blinking of the eye, in breathing. If everything is very focused, and the actors listen very carefully, that creates a lot of tension and concentration which moves from the stage to the audience.

It should not be forgotten that you were involved as an artistic producer for a series of  exhibitions called “Rooms”: “12 Rooms” (Essen, Germany, 2012), “14 Rooms” (Basel, Switzerland, 2014) and “15 Rooms” (Shanghai, China, 2015) curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach. Can you tell us a little about them?

It was an artistic collaboration that started at the Manchester Festival with “11 Rooms”. The curators of this project were Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach. The exhibition consisted of 11 rooms (5×5 metres). The performance artist or visual artist was invited to do whatever they wanted. They could ask for anything, had to involve people prepare and show anything, except not to participate themselves. The organisers had to find the right performers, arrange the lights and choose the right visual elements. The exhibitions would run for 3-4 weeks, from morning to night. I did the first 12 Rooms in Essen, 14 Rooms in Basel and 15 Rooms in Shanghai. They took place in museums, galleries – as many rooms as performances. Some performances were repeated, but new ones were added. The artists’ ideas were the most unexpected. For example, the Cuban artist couple Allora & Calzadilla came up with the „Revolving Door“ project with 10 dancers. They had to form a line to a specific choreography, combining political fight, a protest line, military marching, and dancing in line like show business. But it took several weeks and three groups of dancers to prepare such number. They all had to have dance experience. When we did this performance in China. Several hundred volunteers came to the auditions, but only a few candidates met the criteria. We found the right performers for this project at the dance school. It was always the biggest challenge to find participants for the project in each country. For one project we needed three pairs of identical twins, and for the project of Otobong Nkanga, an artist from Africa, we were looking for black women who could carry a plant pot on their heads. We also had an extraordinary project by the Brazilian artist Laura Lima, Man=Flesh/Woman=Flesh – Flat, which involved paralysed people who could only communicate by blinking their eyes. The artist created a kind of very low house, and the audience had to sit or lie down in order to interact with the performers lying on the ground. This raised a lot of ethical questions, but the artist was very precise about the purpose of  her performance, and it was a very meaningful and important event for all the participants.

15 rooms. Allora & Calzadilla  „Revolving Door“ 

15 rooms. Laura Lima, Man=Flesh/Woman=Flesh – Flat

The premiere of „Dorian“ is about to take place at the National Kaunas Drama Theatre, what makes this performance special for you?

I think it is very special. It is a monologue written for one person, but in Kaunas we have two very different actors. It will be very interesting to see how the audience accepts two people as one. But actually there are even more personalities in the play Personally, it took me a long time to understand the script, and I can’t say that I understand it completely, because it’s very rich, full of different stories, hints, historical facts, Oscar Wilde’s biography, and the relationship between Wilde and Lord Bosey, Francis Bacon, George Dyer, who broke into Bacon’s studio and became his muse and not to forget the image of Dorian Gray. There is a lot background in this play, but not knowing the context of the work does not really prevent one from enjoying the play.

Written by Jolanta Garnytė-Jadkauskienė and Eglė Andriuškaitė

Published at „Kauno diena“

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