Petrushka: Stravinsky Staged With Puppets


The process by which the inanimate becomes animate seems to the audience to be a real miracle.  Sergei Obraztsov*

Petrushka currently playing at the Lansburgh Theatre does indeed appear miraculous. Flowers dance for us, stars twinkle in the sky, a bear performs on a jug, figures magically appear in unexpected places in the theatre, and most magically of all we see a classical ballet performance by three marionettes that offers all the comedy and pathos that human performers could. We have the Ballerina; a graceful but vapid coquette. We have the sexy but menacing Moor. Most of all we have Petrushka himself—a sad eyed clown whose wooden limbs convey more than many flesh and blood actors manage to do in pages of dialogue.

In the classic tale Petrushka woos the fickle Ballerina only to be cut down by the jealous Moor. It’s not a terribly complex or original tale in and of itself, but thanks to puppeteer Basil Twist’s extraordinary vision (and extraordinarily talented group of puppeteers), Petrushka becomes something utterly unique and extraordinarily beautiful. It helps to have Stravinksky’s lovely classical score expertly played by the remarkable Eskinas twin sisters who both play the piano together in perfect harmony.

There are a couple of flaws. The ballet’s preamble goes on too long with a procession of geometric shapes “dancing” in front of us. While one can appreciate the technical mastery in putting on this display, it feels a lot like watching a screen saver for many minutes on hand and some audience members nearly dozed off. And while of the three puppets the Moor is by far the most visually arresting, with his green silk pantaloons, gold accessories, and golden glowing eyes against pure ebony skin, it’s not exactly what one calls P.C. Neither was the depiction in the original opera which remains a staging problem to this day. Nevertheless Petrushka is an excellent start to DC’s ongoing Basil Twist Festival that leaves you hungry for more.

Sergei Obraztsov was a Soviet and Russian puppeteer  credited with establishing puppetry as an art form.

Photos by Steve J. Sherman

Basil Twist Festival 2012
By Basil Twist
Featuring Irina and Julia Elkina
Originally commissioned for Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts
March 16-25, 2012
Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre
To purchase tickets, visit
or call 202-547-1122.

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