Tableaux vivant – the art of creating living pictures, typically based upon famous works of art – is far from new. The Victorians, in particular, were a bit obsessed with it, putting on tableaux vivant spectacles in their own drawing rooms during fancy parties. But the Ludovica Rambelli Teatro Company from Naples has reinvented and revived the art form in a truly exciting way. Not content to get into place behind a curtain the way previous generations did, the Teatro performers spend a minute visible on stage, wrapping fabric, picking up props, getting roughly into place (without giving away the image they’re about to portray), then at the last moment throwing themselves into their poses and freezing, creating a perfect, magical moment. Every time they freeze, my poor brain takes a moment to catch up to their mind-bending transition.
The company is particularly well known for recreating religious paintings by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio set to classical music. The actors (dancers? models? I don’t know what to call them) put on 30-to-60 minute performances, move from painting to painting with remarkable ease. And no short cuts are taken, either. The troupe doesn’t rely upon stage tricks or lighting cues, but instead creates their illusions entirely using only a key light, common objects, and draped fabrics (and one oft-employed pair of wings). Their poses and facial expressions are perfect, and the overall effect is nothing short of magnificent.