You never forget your first time. My first encounter with Riverbed Theatre (河床劇團) was at the Eslite Bookstore (誠品書店) on Dunhua South Road (敦化南路) in October 2006 when they were performing The Man Who Became a Cloud, a piece about Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte.
For more than a decade, artistic director Craig Quintero and his team have put together some of the most visually stunning — and disturbing — productions seen in Taipei’s smaller venues. Some have examined the lives of famous people — Magritte, US theater director Robert Wilson, Albert Einstein — while others have been harder to contextualize.
Quintero, who used to teach at Shih Chien University, moved back to the US in 2008 to become an associate professor at Grinnell College in Iowa, but he remains closely connected to Taiwan. He arrived in Taipei on Dec. 12 to mount his company’s newest production, Electric X! at the Taipei Artists Village (台北國際藝術村) last weekend and this weekend.
He held auditions on Dec. 13 and several dozen people turned up.
“Jan Heui-ling (詹慧玲) — I knew her from all her work in the late 80s, she came with props, costumes, all ready to audition and I was amazed. The French guy [Valentin Lechat] came with balloons, props and juggled,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “They gave us a breath of fresh air, new possibilities.”
New possibilities are key to Quintero and Riverbed’s work, because “we don’t know where we are going ... We don’t start with a set script ... We don’t have a final scene when we start, sometimes we only have it the day before the show starts.” What they do have is images.
“Riverbed Theatre is primarily interested in the intersection of image and performance art ... We’re trying to find a language that goes beyond spoken language,” he said.
The fact that there is usually very little dialogue in the plays means there’s no language barrier. This doesn’t translate, however, into an easier time for the audiences, because the shows tap into your subconscious.
“Forgoing language allows you to go deeper,” Quintero said.
“You don’t leave the show thinking ‘great actors,’ you leave with images of yourself,” he said.
Quintero admits that the images can sometimes be disturbing — “I see these images and wonder ‘what is this’” — but he then quoted Wilson: ‘I don’t give answers, I ask questions.’”
I can’t give answers either. I saw Electric X! last Saturday, but I can’t tell you what’s it about, I can only tell you what I saw — a woman’s head in plastic box, a voiceless man speaking as water pours from his head, huge flowers — and (spoiler alert) a very, very big rabbit. Some things you just have to see for yourself.
WHAT: Riverbed Theatre, Electric X!
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: Barry Room, Taipei Artists Village (台北國際藝術村), 7 Beiping E Rd, Taipei City (台北市北平東路7號)
ADMISSION: NT$400, available through the NTCH box office, www.artsticket.com or by calling (02) 3393-9888
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