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"Go like you would to a museum, like you would look at a painting. Appreciate the color of the apple, the line of the dress, the glow of the light... You just enjoy the scenery, the architectural arrangements in time and space, the music, the feelings they all evoke. Listen to the pictures."
Einstein on the Beach by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass

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Robert Wilson | Visual Theater <1976>

Out of the ferment of the 1960s, Robert Wilson brought performance art to Wagnerian scale in the 1970s with his epic "visual operas." Originally trained as a painter, Wilson was frustrated with the images in his head that were so much richer than anything he could get on canvas. Together with his collaborators who varied from the autistic child Christoper Knowles, to musical celebrities David Byrne and Jessye Norman, to some of the great artists of our time including poet Allen Ginsberg, composer Philip Glass, and playwright Heiner Mčller, Wilson created an inexplicable music theater experience from the integration of non-narrative drama, scenic spectacle, music, sound, silence, and dance.

Influenced by the work of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Wilson's concept of visual theatre set movement and staged events free in time and space, as the surrealist writer Louis Aragon declared, "an extraordinary freedom machine." Large scale works such as Einstein on the Beach and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud were biographical sketches of the mind, generating for the spectator an "intuitive" experience drawn from suggestive actions, slow-motion, and repetitive, non-sensical texts. Unlike the linear flow of time in traditional theater, Wilson's music-visual interface frees the spectator, allowing the mind to freely explore and participate, "rather than the usual virtuoso tools used to project some play's predetermined energies and meanings."

When Einstein on the Beach was given its American premiere at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1976, the two principal collaborators, Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass were totally unprepared for the impact this work would have on the contemporary performing arts. Based on the creative genius of Einstein, and his fascination for numbers, technology, music, and philosophy, the four hour "science-fiction opera" includes a trial, a steam locomotive, and a futuristic spaceship. Contrary to traditional opera, there is no linear narrative, no orchestra in the pit, the libretto is replaced with numerical and syllabic counting, while a small instrumental ensemble supported by electronic keyboards is placed right on stage.