director, born in Waco, Texas, 1941 -
THE BYRD HOFFMAN SCHOOL
1969 - 1971
We've had a lot to do with Robert Wilson over the years and many of our
friends were members of the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds in
New York during the late sixties and early seventies, including sk dunn,
her daughter Jessie Dunn-Gilbert, Jim Neu, Carol
Mullins and others.
Bob and his School of Byrds began producing very unusual and
experimental works of theater, such as "BYRD woMAN" in 1969, performed in the Byrd Loft in New York. Below, Jeff Norwalk on the far left,
Bill Stewart standing in the center
and that is sk dunn glared out on the right.
About those years, sk dunn writes:
the byrds always called
themselves performers. many of us had some other creative interests
before we were ever in a performance, but certainly none of us were
actors. jeff was a filmmaker, bill was a painter and i was a writer,
and there we were, bouncing on boards in a soho loft covered in straw.
how strange. byrd hated acting and wouldn't allow the trained actors he
sometimes used to even discuss acting. (when i was directing mutual
narcissism, russell & roberta would try to talk to me about their
characters; back-stories & motivations and so forth. yikes! i told
them to talk to each other because i didn't know anything about all that).
as byrds we did more dancing than anything else but we didn't call it
dance, we called it movement. byrd is the best dancer i've ever seen
but he hated the dance scene and, except for kenneth king, he didn't use
any real dancers. he did like calling the work dance/theater - i think
because it enraged the dance world - and he loved martha graham & isadora
duncan. we all became dancers, but very few of us would ever call
ourselves that; we were performers. i suppose that's how it all got
started: performance art & movement workshops and so on.
in '69 we got a rockefeller grant to work at the university of iowa for
the fall semester. students from the theater, art, music & dance
departments were meant to join us in creating a new piece. only sheryl
came from theater and not one student from dance. both departments
ridiculed the work, (it's not theater! - it's not dance!), and that was
deafman glance which became our first international success. in europe we
were billed as 'the famous dance/theater group from iowa' . . .we loved
that. . .you can imagine.
Below, Jessie Dunn-Gilbert and sk dunn,
at the Byrd Loft, New York, 1972.
* * *
In 1969 Wilson produced "The King of
Spain," at the Anderson Theater. Below, giant cat's
legs walk across the stage.
That same year, "The Life and
Times of Sigmund Freud," a seven act play, was presented at the Brooklyn
Academy of Music. Below, Bob Wilson,
left, with performance artist and filmmaker Jack Smith.
The performer on the left is fimmaker and writer Robyn Brentano. The guy in
front, below, is the "site-specific," deconstructionist artist Gordon Matta-Clark who would later cut buildings in
half and embed cleavers in gallery walls, that kind of thing. I
always liked his work. And sk dunn on the far right.
The following year, 1970, he
produced the enormous "Deafman Glance" at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music, followed by a European tour. It featured Sheryl
Sutton as the Byrdwoman, below.
That's Jessie Dunn-Gilbert,
as the little mammy, and Bob Wilson as the
big mammy. The remaining cast members, (50 in Brooklyn, 80 in Paris)
will soon appear in blackface & costume, performing the mammy dance
across the stage, to the Blue Danube Waltz . . . nice.
Here Bob enters in his memorable costume from "The
Life and Times of Sigmund Freud." "Deafman Glance" actually
included all of Bob's previous "proscenium" pieces. Somebody's in the nice polar bear outfit.
* * *
Soon, the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds would receive an unexpected
invitation from a surprising source, ... Iran.
...NEXT: PART TWO, KA MOUNTAIN