Don't miss the experience of the forest (or the beauty of a single tree)

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

There's an odd and beautiful paradox to artistic and executive director Kristy Edmunds' curatorial work at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance. To appreciate the value of the one, you need to understand the whole but what makes you appreciate the value of the whole is the beauty of the one. It's a bit like the adage "don't miss the forest for the trees."

The latest tree in Ms. Edmunds impressive forest was Robert Wilson's Letter to a Man. In collaboration with Mikhail Baryshnikov, the stunning piece chronicled the troubled psyche of the great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. As a solo event or tree, it was exquisite. Robert Wilson plying his considerable technique and wit both visually and narratively; Mikhail Baryshnikov reminding us with his magnetic presence why audiences have flocked to see him for decades.

But the real joy of this piece was experiencing it within the broader forest of Robert Wilson’s works that LA audiences have seen at UCLA. Through Ms. Edmunds’ commitment to Wilson through time, we, as an audience, have had the opportunity to learn the artist's language. To appreciate the technique across productions and through a collaboration with the LA Opera to even see a revival of Mr. Wilson's groundbreaking 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach. That means as an audience we have context. We aren't experiencing a single idea. We're developing a relationship with an artist through both the good and the bad. Seeing Mr. Wilson and Mr. Baryshnikov collaborate two years ago on The Old Woman not only provides a reference point but also helps us see what didn't work about that production.

Ms. Edmunds is also connecting across genres. The choreographer, Lucinda Childs, who's credited as a collaborator on Letter to a Man and on Einstein on the Beach had a remarkable evening of her work recently presented at UCLA. In a way that's virtually impossible in the genre of theater, Ms. Edmunds presented a 53 year history of a choreographer in a single night. Titled "Lucinda Childs Dance: A Portrait (1963-2016)" it took an audience on a journey through the choreographer's work with a series of dances that spanned decades and culminated in a world premiere. You got to experience more than a half a century of dance history in a single sitting. Ms. Edmunds doesn't stop there. With the work of Deborah Hay and Trisha Brown, she's exploring a remarkable moment in dance across three vital choreographers. Would that we could do that with theater artists! Would that we had more artistic directors in Los Angeles who took such curatorial care with their seasons and audience.

So all of this work is in the past. If you want to experience this kind of breadth, what can you do now?

Next week Ms. Edmunds is presenting Forced Entertainment's Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare. Across six days 36 of Shakespeare's plays will be boiled down to one hour each and performed on a tabletop with bric-a-brac standing in for actors: imagine Julius Caesar as a ketchup bottle and Brutus as a betraying jar of mustard. This isn't a single journey it's a rich 36-hour forest.

So give yourself an early holiday treat and spend a remarkable week with Shakespeare and Forced Entertainment at UCLA next week. I guarantee you won't regret it.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Photo: Hugo Glendinning