There are other venues in New York that present contemporary puppet work, but none so committed and connected as the Basil Twist lead program at HERE currently in collaboration with the Jim Henson Foundation. Come see how the art has radically morphed over the years.
Animist: Created/Directed/Projection Design by Andy Gaukel. Puppet Construction by Annette Julien. Performed by Andy Gaukel
A person-sized figure with clearly jointed limbs is draped across a wooden chair. Ropes from the ceiling in turn drape across its limp body. A man enters distraught to find the figure lifeless. He cries. Suddenly, there’s a loud heartbeat and projection of an x-ray. Hope. No matter what the man does, however, the figure crumples when released from support. Ropes twice pull him up, but can’t sustain. The man seems to mindmeld (Star Trek fans?) with the figure, projections illustrate. After this, he appears resolved, even content, eventually returning the body as he found it. Acting is effective, we feel frustration and wrenching grief, but the piece is a bit too long.
One Night in Winter: Based on the original Shinnai-bushi song/story by Okamoto Bunya. Concept and direction by Sachiyo Takahashi. Co-Created by Sachiyo Takahashi and Rowan Magee. Shinnai-bushi storytelling by Okamoto Miya. Puppetry by Emma Wiseman and Rowan Magee. English translation by Sachiyo Takahashi and Rowan Magee. (There are super titles.)
“Once there was a man. He outlived his wife and son. By compassion of the villagers, he became the caretaker of a mountain temple. Sometimes he felt the loneliness of old age.” A wood puppet, perhaps 14” with a bald head, spindly, bowed legs, and a short kimono takes off his nightcap. “…since I got old, these long winters trouble me. Then again old age and wind don’t trouble me if I drink.” A great deal of sake is imbibed.
Insistent knocking at the door turns out to be a Tanuki, or raccoon dog. Thought to be a symbol of good luck, folklore says these animals are mischievous shape-shifters. The old man is wary of a magical creature by whom he might be tricked. The Tanuki declares himself also elderly and cold. The old man requests the creature take the form of his dead son.
A furry puppet literally turns inside-out to become a standing kimono. Its head is provided by a block found on the floor of the old man’s cabin. One hand of each of the two puppeteers acts as one of each character. The two men drink and dance the night away. The old man is no longer lonely, the Tanuki no longer shivering.
The story is lovely, puppetry fine with extra attention paid to pouring wine. Listening to Japanese speech, singing and music, even well performed, is, however, an acquired taste.
As it’s a piece in progress, I was not allowed to review Walking Iris which I found enchanting.
Photos by Richard Termine
Puppetopia continues through 5/22/22
HERE – a center for hybrid performance, dance, theater, multi-media and puppetry
145 Avenue of the Americas