In “Leonora’s World,” Double Edge Theatre’s “autumn outdoor spectacle,” the company invites you to enter the surrealist paintings of Leonora Carrington.
“We’re dreaming inside of her world. She’s given us all these amazing images and an incredible way of seeing the world,” says Jeremy Louise Eaton, associate director and designer for the show, which debuted across the company’s Ashfield farm last night and runs through Oct. 21 (all shows are sold out). “We’ve created our own dream of them.”
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) was the daughter of a wealthy English textiles magnate. She studied art, met the married German surrealist artist Max Ernst and ran away with him to Paris. There they mingled with Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard and other surrealists. As World War II began, they were living in southern France and making art. Ernst was arrested by the French for being a suspicious German, but was released. When the Nazis invaded, he fled to the United States. Carrington went to Spain, where she had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. After her release, she fled to Mexico where she spent much of the rest of her life, befriending the Spanish surrealist painter Remedios Varo, becoming active in the feminist movement, making curious, dreamy paintings for decades.
Double Edge’s hour-long pageant begins inside a wooden pavilion, with a performer sitting in a corner recreating a Carrington self-portrait of the artist sitting in a chair with a rocking horse hung on the wall behind her and, out the window, a horse galloping across a field.
Then, just before sunset, Stacy Klein, who conceived and directed the performance, invites the audience outside to explore bewitching, living tableaus and mazes in the surrounding fields inspired by Carrington’s paintings. “The audience is creating their own experience through this world we have created,” Eaton had told me.
Hooded characters enact some sort of ritual along a rushing stream as others drum and a man spins a giant wooden wheel. A painting of a giant becomes a character on stills wandering a field. Creatures scurry about. A bird-woman climbs through interior scenes arranged in a series of farm stalls. Throughout you hear low drumming, tambourines, howling, hissing, horns, bird caws. The overall affect is poetic and a little unsettling.
At the edge of the stream, in the last light after sunset, a hooded, horned character tends a cooking pot then chops up a cabbage and presents it to the crowd that chances to be there. Then she sheds her red hood and cloak, revealing herself as the Carrington self-portrait performer, and wades off up the stream. She reappears later carrying a glowing egg-orb, joining a trio of dancers circling a stone, and with them leads the audience into a barn.
Carrington, Eaton had told me, is “an artist who’s very comfortable with irrationality. It’s a territory in which she lives. I think it’s every important to enter those spaces. … When I say the irrational, I mean the territory of imagination, the dreams, passions. … Living in an experiential way that doesn’t limit itself by what is already.”
Inside the barn, performers offer the audience soup as they enter. Women lay in beds perched up on platforms high on the walls. Others tend a large pot. Performers sing a chant, a woman plays harp. “You may not believe in magic, but something strange is happening in this very moment,” the Carrington self-portrait woman says as she roves through the audience. “You are fading away.”
The woman climbs up onto one of the platforms and pulls a shroud over a performer lying on cot, saying, “I keep dreaming that I’m dead and I have to bury my own corpse.”
The audience is then ushered back out into the night, toward a pond with fires dotting the edges, for the dazzling conclusion. Red-hatted characters paddle a skiff across. A bird-woman and a pair of acrobats seem to hover over the water. The Carrington self-portrait woman paddles a vessel inspired by a horse-skeleton-harlequin-zebra-sea-serpent boat in one of Carrington’s paintings. The woman mulls “an infinite empty space” beyond the heavens. Then the audience is guided back to the pavilion where it all began, and where the show now ends.
Carrington, Eaton had told me, “has a way of taking darkness and making it fly.”
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