a story about a family and some people changing

1972 - 1979


About OVERTURE for KA MOUNTAIN sk dunn writes:
            as a result of the tremendous success of deafman glance in europe, bob wilson and the byrd hoffman school of byrds were invited to perform at the 6th annual festival of arts: shiraz-persepolis in september 1972.  the festival hosted many well known-music & theater groups and was attended by audiences from europe & asia. it was also extensively covered by the press.  the year before peter brook's group from england and joe chaikin and the open theater from NY had performed there.  in '72, stockhausen, merce cunningham & john cage were scheduled to perform.  byrd went to iran to work out the arrangements for the piece.  he proposed doing a 7 day performance on a mountain between shiraz & persepolis.  he would take a company of 30 byrds to iran who would work with iranian students on pre-production during july & august.  the show was scheduled to open during the first week of september.
            in the early stages of workshops and development, i don't think the byrds or the iranians really understood that he intended to create a piece that would be performed for 24 hours a day for 7 days.  i know i didn't, and i'm not sure when the reality of such an undertaking dawned on me.  probably not until we were in shiraz, and by then it was way too late to hesitate.
            in may '72 we presented OVERTURE for KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE, a story about a family and some people changing, at the byrd loft. there were 2 performances a day, from 6 - 9am & 6 - 9pm. lunch was served from 11am - 3pm and all 3 floors of the loft were open to visitors throughout the day.  saito built a pyramid that could be entered from the basement during performances. slits were cut into the floor where cardboard flamingos would appear from below. it was very beautiful and many of the images & characters that would appear on the mountain in shiraz were introduced in overture.




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            During OVERTURE, the extended family of Byrds; performers, supporters  and friends gather for a group photo, below.




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About KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE, sk dunn writes:
            in may, a small group of byrds, (american & european), spent a month at the royamont abbey outside of paris, developing more material for KA MOUNTAIN.  byrd had raised money from the french to pay for royamont but the iranians were waffling over the budget for the festival, and it didn't seem likely that the rest of us would be included in the group going to shiraz.  then, after a couple of weeks, byrd called and said that whoever could get themselves to paris would be covered from there.


            i went to jessie's school and got her released for the rest of the year and carol found a group charter flight for us to take.  we showed up at a location in mid-town expecting a bus ride to kennedy.  instead of going to a new york airport we were driven to niagara falls and then on to toronto where we were told that our plane was waiting for us.  when we got there, the plane wasn't there and they put us up at a hotel.  by then we were convinced it was a ripoff and that there was no plane.  when i called carroll to tell him what was happening, he said that byrd had called after we left to tell us not to come because the negotiations with the iranians had fallen through.  we decided to pretend we hadn't gotten his message and go anyway.  carol, mel, jess and i took a vow of secrecy.  (we would never tell. . .you can imagine).  we thought, if nothing else, we could join the others at royamont for the final week of rehearsals and the all day performance.  the plane did actually arrive the next day and we flew to paris.  by the time we got to royamont the trip to iran was on again so we were really glad we had come.  a week later we were waiting around in paris while the negotiations continued.
            that was the beginning of an extended period of waiting around.  we waited around in paris, and then we got a date to meet up in istanbul in 10 days so we went to italy and waited around at kk's farm near florence.  we rode the orient express to turkey, and then waited around in istanbul.  we were about to leave on the flight to tehran when we learned that byrd had been arrested on the island of crete.  he was searched at the airport and a piece of hash was in his jacket pocket, so he was in jail and we waited around some more in istanbul.
            george, our manager, flew to tehran and talked the iranians into bringing the company to shiraz.  they said that they would cancel the performance if robert wilson was not there.  george convinced them that he would be released.  meanwhile, on crete, andy & cindy & others were visiting byrd everyday and bringing him food.  he was working on the piece and had gotten permission to give them notes to pass on to us in shiraz.  letters of concern & protest were being sent to the greek government by theater & dance celebrities from new york & france(merce cunningham, john cage, arthur miller, jerome robbins, et al).  even jackie onassis got involved and that certainly seemed hopeful.
            the byrds finally arrived in shiraz in mid-july.  we were delivered to the dorms of pahlavi university by the festival representatives and then completely ignored.


            shiraz is a very old and beautiful city, some 500 miles southwest of tehran.  it is known as the city of poets, gardens, & wine.  several famous persian poets lived in shiraz.  the tombs of hafiz & sa'adi are there.  wine was first made in persia and the poets wrote about roses & wine & love.  a lot of people in iran can quote endless verses of poetry by heart, it's very impressive.  shiraz is surrounded by dry, mostly treeless mountains, but within it are many green gardens, pools, and wide tree lined avenues.  in the summer, a lot of tourists go there because of its high elevation, which makes it cooler than other parts of the mid-east.  for us, the heat in the daytime was unbearable, and then it would get very cold at night.

            we were separated into men's & women's dorms, across the campus from each other.  the women's dorms had bars on the windows and we were locked in at night.  almost all of us got sick and for the first week we did a lot of throwing up, eating yogurt, and going to the clinic to get IV's for dehydration.
            the festival coordinators, always referred to as being "from television," refused to help us in any way, saying that we would be sent back if robert wilson did not appear.  they wouldn't tell us where the mountain was that he had chosen for the performance and wouldn't give us any of the production budget money to use.  as we began to recover, we started making demands; the first being that we all live in one dorm together, without the bars.  somehow we won that one and so we began work on KA MOUNTAIN.
            on crete, things weren't looking good.  the byrds there were told that byrd could be sentenced to 10 years.  lawyers were hired, more letters were sent, and byrd was still working on the piece.  every day pages & pages of lists of props, set designs, and scene descriptions were picked up by the crete byrds and read over the phone to us in shiraz.  we worked with the iranian students, holding workshops and rehearsals.  we ventured into town in search of food.  (it was hell on the vegetarians—we existed on canned eggplant, persian bread, and fruit.)  we looked for the mountain—even though the men from  television said we would not be allowed to perform there—and we wandered thru the market with lists of props.  (500 live white rabbits etc.)


            the mountain was called haft tan (7 bodies) for the 7 sufi poets buried in the garden below.  it was a sacred mountain and the officials felt that there would be too much controversy if a performance was held there.  there was a lot of political unrest in iran at that time.  most of the byrds said later that they weren't aware of it,  but i sure was.  in paris, a member of peter brook's group had pinned me to a wall and lectured me on why we shouldn't go there.  the shah's regime was a fascist regime.  it was a military dictatorship and a people’s revolt was just beginning to emerge.  we would be interfering with the revolution.  i understood what he was saying.  i just wanted to go.  in mid-august, i wrote in my journal that there had already been 200 terrorist bombings in iran that summer, so i can't claim not to have known what was going on.  another reason they didn't want KA MOUNTAIN on haft tan was that the shabanou, empress farah diba, who was the patroness of the festival, wouldn't be able to attend the performance because they couldn't secure the mountain.
            the television people tried to keep us from finding out the location of haft tan but we already knew the name because byrd had told us.  when we found it, we started going there.  it was on the eastern edge of the city.  the garden where the poets were buried had a large pool and was surrounded by a high wall.  a path used by pilgrims wound up the mountain to a small stone house near the top that was called the house of ali.  inside were steps leading down to a cave where there was a well.  pilgrims would leave bits of dried mud, brought back from mecca, stuck to the walls of the cave.  outside was a small tree, very unusual up there, and people would tear off a piece of their clothing and tie it to the branches.  a man named mohammed lit candles for people to see their way down to the cave and brought cups of water to pilgrims who had climbed the mountain, and they would give him a few coins.


            byrd had written to jerry robbins and asked him to fly saito over from new york to start building the set.  he worked out on the lawn and began constructing chicken wire & paper maché fish and whales & wooden waves and flamingos & houses and so forth.  we all worked with him everyday, out in the punishing heat.  we rehearsed all of the old work and we had endless meetings with the television people, who still said no to everything we asked for.  we began to venture into town where we discovered an italian restaurant, (iranian flavored spaghetti sauce. . .you can't image).  we discovered melon juice and rosewater flavored ice cream and opium and we danced together every day, morning & night.
            three weeks later, george called a meeting and told us that the iranians had cancelled the performance and that "salaries will be paid until tomorrow—exact details of departure will be ironed out in the morning."  yikes!  we were convinced that we could do the piece even if byrd didn't get there.  we talked a lot at meetings about how we were the byrds and we could interpret his vision and do the show that he wanted to do.  but i guess they didn't buy it.  they wanted robert wilson. . .well, so did we.  it was shocking and disappointing and very very sad.
            some of us decided to spend the last night on haft tan, at the house of ali with mohammed, and to sleep out under the stars.  we made a fire and ate melons & pistachios and smoked & drank and sat out on the rocks, wrapped in blankets, shivering in the cold, and wondering what would become of us.  (whatever shall we do?)  i was still awake at dawn when i saw a figure coming up the back side of haft tan.  it was ann, running across the rocks and calling out that byrd was free and that he would be flying into shiraz that afternoon.


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            the program noted:



will be given for one performance only beginning at

0:00 midnight, September 2, 1972

and ending at

12:00 midnight, September 8, 1972

The complete presentation is continuous, 24 hours a day for 7 days.



















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            Robert Wilson became known for his stunning imagery in the theater.  Below, these life-size ostriches take part in his play, "The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin," at the Brooklyn Academy, 1973.




            The play was developed and previewed at the Det Ny Teater in Copenhagen.  Below, Carol Mullins, Anna-lisa Larsdotter and Carroll Dunn.



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            In 1976, Wilson began working with the avant-guarde composer, Philip Glass.  It would be a long relationship.  Their first work together was the massive opera, "Einstein on the Beach," which had already appeared in ten European cities before being presented at the Metropolitan Opera, below.




            The opera also featured the colaboration of writer, dancer Lucinda Childs.  She wrote:

" ... I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket and there were all these aisles and there were these bathing caps you could buy that had these kind of Fourth of July plumes on them that were red and yellow and blue and I wasn't tempted to buy one but I was reminded of the fact that I had been avoiding the beach."


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