Robert Wilson and Federico León

A year of mentoring

Overview (Chapter 1 of 3)

“I thought that Federico was in some ways the least likely of them (possible protégés). First I said to myself: ‘No.’ Then I thought that with him I’d be taking the biggest risk. It’s exciting when you really don’t know yet what will develop.”

Robert Wilson and Federico León

A year of mentoring

Meetings (Chapter 2 of 3)

Meeting on Wilson’s turf
For logistical reasons it was understood from the outset that Wilson, 62, and León, 27, would meet chiefly on Wilson’s turf. For most of the year therefore, it was Wilson’s philosophies and Wilson’s work-in-progress that provided the principal substance for their dialogue. León entered into this asymmetrical arrangement with eyes wide open.

Fuelled by curiosity
Though his prior exposure to Wilson productions had been limited, he had seen enough to recognize how seamlessly Wilson integrates a panoply of different artistic “languages” (notably that of light) within a single scene. How exactly are such results achieved? León was curious to find out.

Residence at Watermill Center
León had his first good look at his mentor in action at the Watermill Center, a bucolic retreat on eastern Long Island, New York, founded by Wilson in 1992. In the words of his website, the centre was created “as an international facility for new work in the arts, conceived to foster communication and innovation”. Among other things, Watermill serves as the test kitchen in which Wilson spends summers cooking up his productions for the coming year.

Wilson’s process
In residence there, León witnessed (and was drafted for) Wilson’s assembly-line techniques, applied on this occasion to Georg Büchner’s prophetic comedy Leonce und Lena (1836). As is his custom, Wilson gathered whoever happened to be around (civilians emphatically included), worked out his movement schemes on them, and captured the results on videotape. That tape in turn would serve as a reference for the German actors of the celebrated Berliner Ensemble.

Insight into a different approach
Were there lessons for León in what he saw at Watermill? Initially the answer was an unequivocal “no”. Yet asked again at the end of the cycle whether the mentoring encounter with Wilson had affected his thinking, León was less certain. “This has been an experiment. No result was necessary or expected. It has had a result, but what’s really important is the experiment. Right now, I don’t consciously see any effect. But at a certain point, I began to understand.”

Robert Wilson and Federico León

A year of mentoring

Impact (Chapter 3 of 3)

Professional
León’s meetings with Wilson provided him with opportunities to develop new contacts in Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Brussels and Amsterdam, all in the midst of an intensive period of preparing his play El Adolescente.

Personal
Our approaches are different in many ways,” León says. “For me, it was very interesting to see someone working in a world very different from my own. The reward was the accumulation of impressions. At a certain point, I began to understand. One day, the penny drops.”