Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte created images that stay with you. You might not remember his name or the names of his painting, but you remember Golconde, with its bowler-hatted men in black winter coats falling through the air like raindrops, or The Son of Man, a 1964 self-portrait with a hovering green apple obscuring the face of a bowler-hatted man.
Magritte was quoted as saying that his paintings “conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question ‘What does that mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”
While Magritte may have been comfortable with not knowing, his viewers are often left with a lot of questions. Why does that woman have the head of a fish? How can a train emerge from an office wall?
Craig Quintero, director of Riverbed Theatre (河床劇團), said he was attracted by the narrative quality of Magritte's work as well as the juxtaposition of images.
“Each of his paintings seems to be the first line of a novel or the punch line of an unsettling joke, and as the spectators, we are encouraged or feel compelled to fill in the blanks. Whereas other painters might be more technically skillful or stylistically innovative, I find that Magritte's work is a ripe source of inspiration,” Quintero said in an e-mail interview. “I also enjoy the sense of danger and tension that runs through his artwork, that it feels like he has pulled the rug out from under us and left us suspended in mid-air,” he said, explaining why he chose the Belgian as his subject for the “3x3 Concerto — 2006 Eslite Theater Festival.”
Riverbed Theatre's The Man who became a Cloud closes out the festival this weekend.
Quintero said the play is not an examination of Magritte's life but an attempt to explore the spirit of his paintings in a three-dimensional world. The goal was to create the same kind of magic in a theater that Magritte created in his paintings.
Riverbed Theatre was founded in 1998 and has become well-known for its image-based, “total theater” productions that mix performance art with fine art and provide plenty of visual and mental stimulation.
Quintero said participating in the Eslite series this year was a natural extension the company's previous work.
The six performers in the 50-minute play includes some familiar faces from other Riverbed productions, including Hsu Yi-ting (許逸亭), and Huang Hsu-yuan (黃淑媛).
Quintero has been full of praise for his actors.
“The hard part of their work is to make all their actions seem normal, even when their actions or words do not make sense,” he wrote in his press notes.
To tackle the challenge of bringing Magritte's paintings to life Quintero turned to puppeteer Shi Pei-yu (石佩玉) and video artists Maoniu (毛牛) and Lan Yuan-hong (藍元宏). A more frequent collaborator, his mom Cheryl Quintero, has once again composed the music for the production.
He said the team spent a long time discussing Magritte, the spirit of his artwork and their own responses to his paintings. However, he said that one of the biggest challenges for him in this piece was in sitting back and giving his collaborators more space to use their own ideas.
“After writing and directing performances for almost 20 years, it is exciting to open myself to their creative visions and broaden my performance vocabulary,” he said.