KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia
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.
* * *
During OVERTURE, the extended family of Byrds; performers, supporters
and friends gather for a group photo, below.
* * *
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.
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
got involved and that certainly seemed hopeful.
finally arrived in shiraz in mid-july. we were delivered to the dorms
of pahlavi university by the festival representatives and then
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
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
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * *
the program noted:
KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE
will be given for one performance
only beginning at
0:00 midnight, September 2,
and ending at
midnight, September 8, 1972
The complete presentation is continuous, 24 hours
a day for 7 days.
* * *
* * *
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.
* * *
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,
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."
* * *
...NEXT: PART THREE, CIVIL WARS
...BACK TO: PART ONE