Sometimes the best birthday parties are the ones you throw yourself.
Taipei-based Riverbed Theatre (河床劇團) is celebrating its 20th anniversary, with a gallery exhibition at the Eslite Bookstore in Taipei’s Xinyi District (信義), which opened earlier this month, and three days of a new production, Dream Makers: Subconscious Theatre — Riverbed Theatre’s 20th Anniversary (造夢者：潛意識劇場—河床劇團20年), next weekend.
The company’s image-based, “Total Theater” productions, more than 40 in all, have blurred the boundaries between visual and performing arts, creating productions largely unhindered by text or even linear narrative.
Photo courtesy of Riverbed Theatre
Some shows have been inspired by the lives and/or works of famed artists from a variety of fields (Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, US theater director Robert Wilson, US film director David Lynch, Albert Einstein, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama) and events such as the Apollo 11 mission or Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Others have sprung from the fertile, perhaps even fevered, dreams of artistic director Craig Quintero and his colleagues.
Riverbed’s painterly designs, sets featuring multiple hidden doors and exits, and its surreal imagery envelope audiences in dreamscapes that are filled with familiar objects yet often prove otherworldly, if not disturbing.
The troupe has developed a reputation for quality over quantity, preferring smaller venues such as the Taipei Artist Village and National Experimental Theater, or specially built environments for audiences ranging from two dozen to just one person, as with its “Just For You” productions set in hotel rooms and museums in Taipei and Tainan. It has also taken its shows on the road to festivals in Asia and Europe, such as the OFF d’Avignon.
Photo courtesy of Riverbed Theatre
The troupe staged its first show, Burnt Rice, at the Dunhua Eslite Art Space in 1998, so it is fitting it has returned to an Eslite outlet for its birthday celebration.
The “Dream Makers” exhibition is two-fold. While it features paintings, sculptures and video works by troupe members and collaborators, including Quinterro, Carl Johnson, Joyce Ho (何采柔), Su Hui-yu (蘇匯宇), Hsu Yin-ling (許尹齡), Hung Hung (鴻鴻) and Hsia Yu (夏宇), it is also a workshop where the set and props for next week’s shows are being built and painted.
The public is encouraged to participate in the set building process.
As for the show itself, the company says Dream Makers is “a performative meditation on the beauty and sorrow of living, on the fragile impermanence of life.”
“We are fascinated by our body, by the familiar yet strange vehicle that we inhabit. It is us, but at the same time it shifts and changes in ways beyond our control,” it says.
While that sounds maddeningly vague, it perfectly encapsulates Riverbed. The company’s shows have always been difficult to describe in advance, because they are made to be seen and experienced on an individual, not collective level.
While the shows can tap a shared subconsious in the form of cultural, social or visual references, each audience member sees and filters a Riverbed production through their own conciousness and imagination.
Twenty years is an admirable achievement, and Riverbed is a company certainly worth celebrating — whether by wielding a paintbrush or buying a ticket to next weekend’s shows.
WHAT: Dream Makers: Subconscious Theatre — Riverbed Theatre’s 20th Anniversary
WHEN: Friday July 27 at 7pm and 8:30pm, Saturday July 28 and Sunday July 29 at 4pm, 7pm and 8:30pm
WHERE: Eslite Gallery (誠品畫廊), 5F, 11 Songgao Rd, Taipei City (台北市松高路11號5樓)
ADMISSION: NT$800 and NT$3,000; available at NTCH box offices, online at www.artsticket.com and convenience store ticket kiosks
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