This weekend, the Yale Repertory Theater is putting on two performances of South African artist William Kentridge’s multimedia chamber opera “Refuse the Hour” alongside an exhibition of his work at the Yale University Art Gallery.
“Refuse the Hour,” which was conceived and directed by Kentridge, explores the themes of time and colonialism, a continuation of motifs from his earlier opera entitled “The Refusal of Time.” The production process involved collaboration between Kentridge and other artists, including composer Philip Miller and choreographer Dada Masilo, to present a piece that combines various forms of visual arts, music and drama. Singers, dancers and musicians come together on stage alongside machines built by Kentridge. The artist himself will perform in the work. An accompanying exhibit of Kentridge’s work, which includes drawings, animations and other forms of installation art, will be on display at the YUAG through January.
“William Kentridge is one of the world’s great visual artists and directors, and his presence at Yale is a boon to anyone who is interested in art, music, opera and performance,” said James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. “[The production] is the result of a terrific collaboration focused on bringing this internationally renowned arts leader to Yale.”
The opera revisits themes common in Kentridge’s work as a visual artist — such as oppression, violence, racism, absurdity, uncertainty and “provisionality” — as well as his propensity to harness a variety of media within a single work.
Pamela Franks, deputy director for exhibitions, programming and education and curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the YUAG, explained that “Refuse the Hour” brings together a wide variety of visual imagery, music and narrative in its exploration of the concept of time, creating a multisensory experience for viewers.
“What is most fascinating is that by bringing all these art forms together, he is using time to explore time, because music, dance and film are a way of taking his still images and letting them unfold over time,” Franks noted. “This allows him to … extend that visible realm [he creates in his visual art] into the temporal and aural and performative.”
The Repertory Theater’s production of “Refuse the Hour” is itself a collaboration between a number of Yale organizations, including the YUAG, the Center for British Art, the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music. In addition, the YUAG’s Andrew Carnduff Ritchie Fund will sponsor a talk by Kentridge this Sunday in which the artist will discuss several of his current projects.
Franks said she thinks the prominence of Yale’s schools of music, theater and art make the University a fitting place to put on such a complicated performance, adding that Kentridge received an honorary doctorate from the School of Art in 2013. She highlighted as well the YUAG’s significant holdings of the artist’s work, including a pair of video works currently on display in the Gallery.
Wa Liu ’17, an art major and former photography editor for the News, said she is looking forward to Kentridge’s visit to Yale because of her interest in the artist’s involvement with a multiplicity of cultures. She mentioned his identity as a white South African man, as well as his recent interest in Chinese culture, particularly the Cultural Revolution, which Liu said she thought was on display in a solo exhibition she saw of his work in Beijing this past summer, which included “Notes Towards a Model Opera.”
Kentridge’s art has been shown around the world, including his production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “The Nose” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010 alongside an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.