Young videotape medium draws new talent

In a growing trend, directors with roots in theater and dance are trying their hands at the young videotape medium. Two such artists are Robert Wilson and Kenneth Robins, who have new works coming up in both arenas.

Wilson has garnered international acclaim for bold and inventive stage activity, including the celebrated opera ''Einstein on the Beach,'' which is due for a revival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music next year. Though his massive and complicated creations don't always come off as planned - a couple of scheduled shows were canceled at the last minute in New York this season - he is working now on an epic to be presented in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympic Games.

The title is ''A Tree is Best Measured When it is Down: The Civil Wars,'' and David Bowie (!) will star as Abraham Lincoln. Planned to run a total of 12 hours , its five separate acts (each with music by a different composer) are being prepared in five different countries.

Long before the premiere of that event, however, a brilliant Wilson videotape will be offered - Stations (ARTS, Tuesday, April 5, 10:10, check local listings) - along with an informative Wilson interview. Comprising 13 episodes in about an hour, ''Stations'' is a stunning and stirring work that makes superb use of video's unique properties.

The main character is a little boy who lives with his mom and dad in a roomy house. His favorite pastime is gazing out the kitchen door at the yard, waiting for strange adventures (or just daydreams?) that never take long to spring up. Pyramids sprout from the earth; fireballs drop from the sky; penguins cavort on a frozen plain; a giant bumblebee pays a friendly visit.

Some of the incidents are funny, others are unsettling or downright scary. But they lead to a finale that's as happy as it is illogical, and you never know where the next scene will take you - to a cave, or a forest, or a restaurant where everyone has orange hair and a blue face.

It doesn't make much sense as a plot, though many of the incidents seem to be sparked by a ''mystery man'' in a limousine, or by the boy's talisman, a Timex wristwatch that marks the hours of some dimension we've never heard of. But it makes a dandy occasion for dozens of dazzling Wilson images: an elephant on a rooftop, a house framed by lightning flashes, a child strolling up the side of a refrigerator. In all, it's a fascinating spectacle and a provocative work of art that will surely become a staple of the art-video repertoire.

Kenneth Robins, a dancer and director who has won prizes at a number of film and video festivals, is also preparing a new stage work, ''Lenny and the Heartbreakers,'' described as a ''new wave musical'' combining dance, video, and Bach into a vision of Leonardo da Vinci as a ''present-day renaissance wonderboy.'' It's scheduled for production by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival this July.

Meanwhile, a video work by Robins (also produced by Papp) will be shown back to back with ''Stations'': Swan Lake, Minnesota (ARTS, Tuesday, April 5, 9 p.m., repeated April 16, check local listings). It's an inventive fairy tale about a Midwestern farm region that is charmingly invaded by a bevy of ballerinas engaged in a perpetual performance of - you guessed it - ''Swan Lake.''

Robins comes up with all kinds of unexpected imagery (including a little near-nudity that might be too strong for network TV) as he mixes rural burghers and dainty dancers in a long string of combinations, all accompanied by a country-music version of Tchaikovsky's classic score.

It's a bold idea, though Robins doesn't quite muster the momentum to sustain all his concepts, and the built-in ephemerality of the video image works against the built-in physicality of Loyce Houlton's choreography. Described as a ''fairy tale verite,'' and already receiving high praise from the dance world, it puts Robins firmly on the map as an uncommonly audacious new TV talent.

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