The World Premiere of Robert Wilson's New Opera, ZINNIAS - THE LIFE OF CLEMENTINE HUNTER, will perform tonight, January 26 - February 3, 2013. It is only when the curtain goes up that the truth is told.
With a working process as intuitive, unique, meticulous, and enigmatic as the resulting shows, it is a blind gamble to predict much about any Robert Wilson production, except its riveting genius. Aside from music steeped in Southern blues, traditional hymns and chants and zydeco, with less than three weeks out on the world premiere of Wilson's "Zinnias - The Life of Clementine Hunter" at Peak Performances, January 26-February 3, only the facts of the show can be revealed with certainty.
1) Clementine Hunter (1887-1988) was a self-taught African-American visual artist whose work Wilson was first introduced to on a family trip from Waco, TX to Louisiana where Hunter lived and workeD. Wilson was 14 at the time. Hunter, who was born on Hidden Hill cotton plantation near Cloutierville, LA, did not begin painting until she was in her mid-fifties. Her work, full of vibrant color, chronicled the side of plantation life that was "over the fence and across the road."
(See attached biography).
2) An opera in one act, the show's concept, direction, set and light are by Robert Wilson; the music and lyrics are by Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon. Jacqueline Woodson is responsible for the story and book. The costumes are designed by Carlos Soto; Scott Bolman is the assistant light designer; Jakob Oredsson is the assistant set designer; Lynsey Peisinger is the assistant director.
3) The performers are Cornelius Bethea, Nat Chandler, Carla Duren, Francesca Harper, Karma Mayet Johnson, Jennifer Nikki Kidwell, Josette Newsam-Marchak, Robert Osborne, Charles E. Wallace and Darynn Zimmer with Sheryl Sutton. The musicians are Robert Burke, Fred Cash, Juliette Jones, Jason Walker and Adam Widoff.
4) "Zinnias - The Life of Clementine Hunter" is produced by Peak Performances at Montclair State University.
5) The performance is one hour and a half with no intermission.
The Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University is located at 1 Normal Avenue, Montclair, New Jersey 07043. Tickets are $15, and are available at the box office, www.peakperfs.org, or by calling 973-655-5112.
Charter bus service is provided from New York City's Port Authority Bus Terminal - arcade on 41st Street between 8th and 9th Avenues - to the Alexander Kasser Theater ($10 per person, roundtrip) for all Saturday and Sunday performances. Bus reservations may be made by calling 973-655- 5112 or by visiting www.peakperfs.org. For train service, available only on weekdays, go online to www.njtransit.com or call 973-275-5555.
For restaurants close to the Alexander Kasser Theater, visit www.destinationmontclair.com.
CLEMENTINE HUNTER is one of the most important self-taught American artists of the 20th century. She produced thousands of paintings drawn from her experiences working and living on a southern cotton plantation during the last century. Her works hang in the Smithsonian Institution, the American Folk Art Museum, the African-American Museum in Dallas, the Ogden Museum in New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and numerous other museums and private collections. Hunter's art will play a major role in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, scheduled to open on the Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2015.
Hunter was born Clémence Rubin in 1887 on Hidden Hill cotton plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana. Her parents were sharecroppers in the fertile region that took its name from the oxbow lake known as Cane River. When Hunter was a teenager, her father gave up sharecropping to take a job that paid wages and moved his family to Melrose Plantation, one of the largest and most successful farms in the region. Hunter continued to live on or near Melrose for the rest of her life.
At Melrose, Hunter toiled in the cotton fields and pecan groves for most of her youth and then worked as a domestic servant in the plantation's "Big House" when she approached middle age. Between 1917 and 1948, the plantation was owned and operated by Carmelite "Cammie" Garret Henry. Strongly influenced by the Arts-and-Crafts Movement of the early 20th century, Henry developed Melrose into a haven for artists and writers, who were invited to live in the outbuildings and work for extended periods on the plantation grounds.
Sometime in the late 1930s, after age 50, Hunter began painting with the leftover brushes and oils discarded by New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey, a frequent Melrose visitor. Without formal training, Hunter began painting her memories. In time, her colorful works illuminated the side of plantation life that was "over the fence and across the road." Her paintings are recognized as visual narratives, telling the story of the African-American and Creole people who lived and worked on and around the plantation until their labor was replaced by mechanization after World War II. Hunter continued to paint until a few days before her death on January 1, 1988, at the age of 101.
Robert Wilson was described by the New York Times as "a towering figure in the world of experimental theater." Wilson, born in 1941 in Waco Texas, is among the world's foremost theater and visual artists. His works for the stage unconventionally integrate a wide variety of artistic media, including dance, movement, lighting, sculpture, music and text. His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics worldwide.
Wilson's awards and honors include two Guggenheim Fellowship awards ('71 and '80), the nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama ('86), the Golden Lion for sculpture from the Venice Biennale ('93), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement ('96), the Premio Europa award from Taormina Arte ('97), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters ('00), and Commandeur des arts et des lettres ('02), among others.
Together with composer Philip Glass, he created the seminal opera "Einstein on the Beach." With productions such as "Deafman Glance," "KA MOUNTAIN and GUARDenia TERRACE," "Life and Times of Sigmund Freud," "CIVIL warS," "Death, Destruction & Detroit" or "A Letter for Queen Victoria," he redefined and expanded theater. Wilson's collaborators include diverse writers and musicians such as Susan Sontag, Lou Reed, Heiner Müller, Jessye Norman, David Byrne, Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright. Wilson has also left his imprint on masterworks such as "The Magic Flute," Wagner's Ring Cycle, "Madama Butterfly," "Dreamplay," "Peer Gynt," "Threepenny Opera," "Shakespeare's Sonnets" and "Krapp's Last Tape."