Wilson, Robert

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Wilson, Robert

Robert Wilson, 1941–, dramatist, director, and designer, b. Waco, Tex. He began his arts career as a painter. A leading figure in postmodern theater since 1963, when he arrived in New York City, he has created lengthy, often controversial multimedia events that combine drama, dance, and stylized gesture with contemporary instrumental music, opera, and art. Extending the tradition of surrealism, exploring the theatrical parameters of time and space, and usually created in collaboration with other artists, his theater art pieces frequently include visually dazzling tableaux and stylized presentations of text or song.

Wilson's works include the 12-hour Life and Times of Joseph Stalin (1973); the five-hour Einstein on the Beach (1976, rev. 1984), a collaboration with Philip Glass and his best-known work; the day-long Civil Wars (1984), with Glass, David Byrne, and others; 1990s operatic extravaganzas (again with Glass), including White Raven and The Palace of the Arabian Nights; The Days Before: Death, Destruction, and Detroit III (1999), a collaborative multimedia meditation on the Apocalypse; and I La Galigo (2004), a three-and-a-half-hour adaptation of an ancient Indonesian epic. Working in Europe and the United States, Wilson has been a phenomenally prolific director, mounting brilliantly strange productions of various classics, including Wagner's Parsifal, Büchner's Danton's Death, Shakespeare's King Lear, and La Fontaine's Fables.

See C. Nelson, ed., Robert Wilson, The Theater of Images (1984); L. Shyer, Robert Wilson and His Collaborators (1989); A. Holmberg, The Theatre of Robert Wilson (1996); K. Otto-Bernstein, dir., Absolute Wilson (documentary film, 2006).

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